How Magnesium May Help Treat Muscle Cramps
Magnesium is an essential mineral that your body needs to survive, and to thrive. The human body cannot create enough magnesium for the body’s needs, so the mineral must be consumed through foods or supplements.
In nature, magnesium is found in the chlorophyll of plant foods. In our food supply, magnesium is commonly found in an abundance of healthy, affordable foods including dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, dairy products and animal proteins like chickens and fish .
For healthy adults over the age of 19 years, the recommended daily intakes of magnesium are :
- 300 mg per day for men
- 270 mg per day for women
Magnesium exerts some extremely important functions in the body. For example, magnesium plays a critical role in keeping nerves, muscles and blood vessels healthy.
Magnesium deficiencies are associated with muscle cramps and other chronic diseases, including high blood pressure and type II diabetes . Unfortunately, it is estimated that 60% of adults do not meet their magnesium needs .
What is the exact mechanism behind magnesium improving muscle cramps?
Currently, scientists point to the role magnesium has on nerves and muscles.
Every single muscle in your body is connected to tiny nerves. If these nerves become overexcited or damaged, they can cause tiny, but rapid, contractions that result in the pain associated with muscle cramps.
Magnesium regulates the entry of calcium into your muscles and plays a role in muscle relaxation. Magnesium blocks calcium entry to help relax muscles. If calcium enters the muscle cell, a contraction will occur .
This means that if there is not enough magnesium available to the muscle cell, there will be nothing there to block the entry of calcium and will cause muscle cramps . This is what scientists think happens during deficiencies in magnesium, where muscle cramps are a symptom.
This mechanism is what inspired scientists to research the real-life results of supplementing with magnesium to prevent and relieve muscle cramps. Let’s dive into this research next.
What does research say about magnesium supplements and muscle cramps?
One study found that magnesium supplementation improved leg cramps in 54-78% of participants
One randomized-controlled placebo trial enrolled 46 individuals who regularly suffered from leg cramps . The study was designed so that one group was assigned to consume a magnesium supplement while another group was assigned to consume a placebo for 6 weeks each.
Before and after the supplementation periods, participants were asked to record the number of leg cramps they experienced per week. Researchers found that 54-78% of the participants thought that the magnesium supplementation improved their leg cramps.
Case reports suggest that individuals with magnesium deficiency are likely to experience muscle cramps
In a case of an elderly, hospitalized patient, magnesium supplementation provided relief of intense lower leg and abdominal cramps .
The medical team predicted that this patient was deficient in magnesium, both due to medical conditions and not eating enough magnesium in her diet. Ultimately, the medical team suggests that magnesium deficiency is one factor to consider for individuals experiencing muscle cramps.
How else could magnesium help muscle cramps?
As mentioned above, magnesium plays an important role in healthy muscular contraction and nerve function, both factors that are important for avoiding muscle cramps. Over time, if you are not consuming enough magnesium in your diet, you can start to become deficient in magnesium where one of the symptoms include muscle cramps .
In addition to magnesium deficiencies, magnesium plays other important roles in your body in reducing the risk of certain health conditions, like high blood pressure and diabetes that may also cause muscle cramping.
Healthy blood pressure control is important to ward off nerve damage, which is associated with muscle cramps. In one meta-analysis, researchers found that magnesium supplement led to a decrease in blood pressure in clinical trials with over 1000 participants .
Similarly, healthy blood sugar levels are also essential to avoid diabetes, which can result in nerve damage resulting in potential muscle cramps. Magnesium helps keep blood sugars within a healthy range, as it helps your cells utilize sugar more efficiently .
The bottom line
Ultimately, putting together the evidence has allowed scientists to make this association between magnesium and improving muscle cramps. Beyond muscle cramps, magnesium also delivers undeniable health benefits on the entire body, including improved blood sugar and blood pressure control.
- National Institutes of Health. (2020, September 25). Magnesium. Dietary Supplement Factsheet. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
- Public Health England. (2016, August 01). Government Dietary Recommendations. Government recommendations for energy and nutrients for males and females aged 1 – 18 years and 19+ years. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/618167/government_dietary_recommendations.pdf
- Volpe, S. L. (2013). Magnesium in disease prevention and overall health. Advances in nutrition, 4(3), 378S-383S.
- Garrison, S. R., Korownyk, C. S., Kolber, M. R., Allan, G. M., Musini, V. M., Sekhon, R. K., & Dugré, N. (2020). Magnesium for skeletal muscle cramps. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (9).
- Sills, S., Roffe, C., Crome, P., & Jones, P. (2002). Randomised, cross-over, placebo controlled trial of magnesium citrate in the treatment of chronic persistent leg cramps. Medical Science Monitor, 8(5), CR326-CR330.
- Bilbey, D. L., & Prabhakaran, V. M. (1996). Muscle cramps and magnesium deficiency. Canadian Family Physician, 42, 1348.
- Kass, L., Weekes, J., & Carpenter, L. (2012). Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis. European journal of clinical nutrition, 66(4), 411-418.