So you’re driving down the road enjoying the scenery when all of a sudden you feel a tingling in your calf, and next thing you know that tingle turns into a knot, and then into a painful cramp. A charley horse, just when you least expect it. So what to do to survive this seldom fatal but potentially dangerous situation?
Muscle cramps are involuntary, painful contractions of a muscle. Cramps occur when a muscle contracts and doesn’t relax. Even after the cramp relaxes the muscle may feel fatigued and sore. Cramps can last only a few seconds, or as long as 20 minutes. Cramps most commonly occur during exercise, but can also be triggered during sitting or sleeping. They strike most frequently in the leg, thigh, or calf.
There are various reasons cramps occur. Inadequate stretching and overexertion of muscles lead to a buildup of lactic acid in your muscles. Muscle fatigue and de-hydration may also contribute. Cramps are also more likely to happen in hot weather when you tend to lose more fluids.
When a cramp strikes, if you are driving, pull off the road to a place of safety and then try a few tricks to help the muscle relax. Start by gently stretching the area. Don’t over stretch or force the stretch, just lightly push the muscle until you feel a stretch. Another way to reduce the pain is to delicately massage the cramped muscle. You might also try to ice the affected area for 15 minutes at a time. This will ease the congestion in the muscle and encourage it to relax.
Stretching should be done on a regular basis, and will go a long way towards prevention of the sudden cramping we often experience while driving. A calf stretch can be done by pressing the heel down firmly and raising the front of the foot up. If the cramp is painfully entrenched, it may be too painful to get into the stretch position. If so, reach down and massage the knot of muscle. Ease the cramp by massage and stretching- flexing the foot upward until the cramp eases up. Use deep breathing as you stretch to help bathe the muscles in oxygen, releasing tense muscle fiber. Walking on your heels is a good release; sometimes it takes a little weight to get the stubborn cramp to let up.
Be sure you frequently drink water. Often while we’re traveling, we forget to sip water on a regular basis. Staying hydrated will keep your joints fluid and help remove toxins that build up in the muscles, both of which help prevent cramping.
Remember that pressing down on the pedal for prolonged periods of time is similar to overuse of an exercise. Put it on cruise control and stretch and move the foot, lift and tap the toes, to release the pressure of downward pressure on the gas pedal. Move the foot around, and avoid continuous pressure at the same angle for long periods of time.
If all else fails, pull into the nearest campground or rest area and take a long walk, if this doesn’t banish the charley horse at least you will have exercised and de-stressed by enjoying the beauty around you. Happy healthy driving