Do you suffer from muscle cramps?
Muscle cramps affect many people in many different ways, and are characterised by painful, uncontrollable muscle spasms that can last a few minutes. Cramps are usually harmless, but cramping that occurs regularly or lasts longer than a few minutes can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, and should be investigated by your doctor.
There are 2 theories currently supported by research as to why cramps occur:
1) Electrolyte imbalance
This theory is the older of the two, and less supported nowadays. It suggests that cramps occur as fluid and electrolytes move out of cells, causing an increase in the concentration of chemical messengers that hyper-excite nerves and make them contract uncontrollably.
2) Altered neuromuscular control
This theory suggests that muscular overload and fatigue cause a change in the normal firing of nerves between the muscle and the tendon. We see an increase in activation of the nerves that contract muscle, causing them to spasm uncontrollably.
When a cramp occurs, the best things you can do are:
- Gentle self massage to the muscle
- Gentle stretching of the muscle
- Gentle antagonist-contract stretching
To prevent a cramp, it is important to:
- Ensure the muscle group is strong enough to avoid fatigue occurring
- Regular stretching, including antagonist-contract stretching
- Completing a dynamic warm up before any exercise to prepare the muscle for performance