Heat cramps are sudden, painful muscle cramps that are caused due to exposure to very high temperatures for prolonged periods with increased physical activity and less hydration. When a person works or exercises in a hot environment, he loses a lot of body fluid and electrolytes through sweat. Inadequate intake of fluid and electrolytes aggravates the condition. These occur for a brief period but are very painful.
Heat cramps are known to occur during sleep after heavy work. This is due to release and build up of chemical waste
in the muscles e.g., calves, thigh, foot, shoulder etc.
Who are at risk of heat cramps?
- At extremes of age – elderly and infants
- Alcohol consumption before, during or after vigorous activity
- Workers exposed to high temperatures e.g., miners
- Certain medications (antidepressants, tranquilizers, over the counter cold medications etc.) as they interfere with body’s heat regulation ability
How to recognize heat cramps?
Muscle spasms are the only sign of heat cramps. Characteristics of heat cramps are:
- Involuntary muscle spasms
- Brief duration
- Profuse sweating
- Intermittent (they come and go)
- Usually resolve on their own
Do’s and Don’ts in case of Heart Cramps
- Move the person from the hot environment to a cooler, shady area.
- Stretch and massage the affected muscle (calf and thigh muscles) gently through the cramp.
- Give the person something to drink, preferably with a pinch of salt in it, eg. lemonade, sports drink etc.
- Let the person rest for some time.
- Seek medical advice if the cramps continue.
- DO NOT allow the person to continue strenuous exercise.
Techniques to relieve Heat Cramps
For cramps in the calf:
- Straighten the leg at the knee.
- Support the foot and flex towards you.
- Massage the calf muscles.
For cramps in the thighs:
- For cramps in front of the thighs (hamstring), straighten the leg and curl the toes.
- Straighten the leg, raise it and hold it against some resistance eg. press the ankle of the injured leg against the ankle of the healthy leg or hold it against other persons shoulder and press downwards.
- For cramps in front of the thighs, bend the knee.
For cramps in foot:
- Help the victim stand with weight on the front of foot.
- Take a step.
- Sit down in a still position, keeping weight on the front side of the foot.
- Now lift the front side of your foot keeping heel on the ground.
- Curl toes away from you.
- When spasm has passed, massage the affected area.
Some Frequently Asked Questions about heat cramps?
Q: How can heat cramps be prevented?
Ans: Prevention is the best treatment for heat cramps. If possible, try to avoid working or exercising in the sun but
if it is required, acclimatizing to the hot weather is important. Drink plenty of fluids and if the activity lasts for a prolonged period of time, consider using sports or balanced electrolyte drinks. This is particularly important if significant sweating occurs and electrolytes are lost through sweat. Try to rest in cool or shady areas whenever possible.
You can read more about other heat related emergencies in our blogs: