Science Investigates the Cause of Muscle Cramps

What Causes Muscle Cramps During Exercise?

Muscle cramping occurs when there is a sudden drop in blood flow to your muscles due to lack of oxygen (hypoxia). When you are exercising, your heart pumps extra blood into your working muscles which is why they feel like they’re burning up. If you stop exercising suddenly, this extra blood supply may not be enough to keep the working muscles alive and functioning properly.

The problem with this situation is that the working muscles may begin to fail. Your heart may stop beating, your brain may shut down completely, or you could even lose consciousness altogether.

If you have ever experienced muscle cramps while exercising, then you know how painful they can be! They are usually followed by a feeling of weakness and dizziness. These symptoms often last for several minutes after the cramping stops.

Some people experience them only occasionally while others get them all the time!

There are many theories about what causes muscle cramps. Some say that the cause is dehydration, while others believe it’s a combination of things such as hyponatremia (low levels of sodium in the blood) and electrolyte imbalance. However, no matter what the reason is, one thing is certain: if you suffer from muscle cramps during exercise, you need to take steps to prevent them from happening again!

How Do You Prevent Muscle Cramps During Exercise?

There are several ways that you can reduce the chances of getting muscle cramps during exercise. Some are more effective than others but you should find at least one that works for you.

If you plan to participate in a multi-day feet or event, such as a triathlon, make sure that you start taking steps to prevent them long before it starts. This includes practicing good hydration techniques, eating the right foods and getting enough rest.

If you are already suffering from muscle cramps, there are several things that you can do to ease the pain and get rid of them. Most people find that stretching the cramped muscle helps alleviate the pain and in some cases this may be enough to end the spasms completely. Of course, if you really want to make sure that your muscles are fully relaxed, you could also take a hot bath or use a heating pad to help get the blood pumping into the affected area again.

You can also try drinking some pickle juice or eating some sour candy. There has been evidence to suggest that these things can help alleviate cramping. Salt tablets have also been known to help prevent muscle cramps, especially during long distance running events and triathlons.

Most Common Muscle Cramps During Exercise

Science Investigates the Cause of Muscle Cramps - Picture

Lots of people experience muscle cramps during exercise, especially in their legs and feet. Other areas that are commonly affected include the calves, lower back and arms. During long distance running events, it is not unusual for people to experience cramps in their feet and calves.

If you were a little lazy when it came to preparing for your exercise session, this might be why you are suffering from leg and foot cramps right now. To prevent this from happening again, visit your doctor first to make sure there are no underlying medical conditions causing the cramps (such as low potassium or magnesium levels). If your doctor gives you the all clear then try out some of the prevention tips listed above.

They really can work!

Cramping in the calves or feet during exercise:

Wear appropriate shoes for the exercise that you are doing. If you are running, make sure your running shoes offer adequate support and cushioning for your feet. Wear socks that fit you properly and allow your feet to “breathe” by incorporating some airy material, such as cotton.

Warm up and stretch before you begin your exercise. This will help get your blood flowing into the muscles that need it and help prevent muscle cramps from occurring.

Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. Dehydration can lead to a decrease in circulation which can cause muscle cramps.

If you are exercising in the heat for a long period of time (1 hour or more) be sure to hydrate even more than you normally would.

If you are performing long distance running you may benefit from incorporating a sports drink into your diet. These can help provide the body with the right balance of salts, sugars and minerals that will prevent cramping during events.

Add some magnesium to your diet. Some people do not get enough of this mineral which can cause cramping problems. Foods high in magnesium include: nuts, whole grains, green leafy vegetables and bananas.

Sources & references used in this article:

Investigating the cause of muscle cramps by S Levin – The Physician and sportsmedicine, 1993 – Taylor & Francis

Partial thyroarytenoid myectomy: an animal study investigating a proposed new treatment for adductor spasmodic dysphonia by SH Genack, P Woo, RH Colton… – … —Head and Neck …, 1993 – journals.sagepub.com

ALSUntangled Update 4: Investigating the XCell-Center by ALSUntangled Group – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, 2010 – Taylor & Francis

Exercise associated muscle cramps—a current perspective by J Qiu, J Kang – Arch Sports Med, 2017 – researchgate.net

Worried?: Science investigates some of life’s common concerns by E Chudler, LA Johnson – 2019 – books.google.com

Relationship of muscle cramps to quality of life and sleep disturbance in patients with chronic liver diseases: A nationwide study by M Iwasa, Y Karino, T Kawaguchi, H Nakanishi… – Liver …, 2018 – Wiley Online Library

Exertional heat cramps: recovery and return to play by MF Bergeron – Journal of sport rehabilitation, 2007 – journals.humankinetics.com

Heat cramps: fluid and electrolyte challenges during tennis in the heat by MF Bergeron – Journal of science and medicine in sport, 2003 – Elsevier

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