We all know the feeling of being doubled -over in the gym holding our calf / thigh / hand as crippling cramp strikes us, but what IS it and why does it happen?
What is cramp?
Cramp is the involuntary spasming of a muscle or muscle group where the muscle refuses to relax.
It is normally accompanied by a painful sensation that can range from a slight spasm to agonising pain. It can last a few seconds to 15 minutes and often recurs in the same muscle repeatedly.
Types of Cramps:
There are 4 distinct cramping types: ”true” cramps, tetany, contractures, and dystonic cramps but it is most likely that fitness models and athletes will be affected by “true” cramps, as these are commonly associated with the vigorous use of muscles and muscle fatigue brought on by excessive use in sports, or through repetitive use i.e. in weight lifting.
Such cramps may happen during activity or later, sometimes many hours later and are usually caused by:
- Dehydration: Sports and other vigorous activities can cause excessive fluid loss from perspiration.
Any athletes who commonly use diuretics such as “stackers” are likely to suffer from cramping more frequently than those who do not due to the chronic volume depletion of body fluids brought on by these substances.
Sodium depletion has also been associated with cramps - Sodium is the most abundant chemical constituent of body fluids outside the cell and is usually a function of dehydration.
- Conditioning / Injury: Persistent cramping may occur as a protective mechanism following an injury or in weaker less conditioned muscles. In this instance, the spasm tends to minimize movement and stabilize the area of injury.
- Fatigue: Cramp sets in when our muscles are tired
- Vitamin Depletion – Low blood calcium and / or magnesium: Lower than recommended levels of either calcium or magnesium directly increase the sensitivity and excitability of nerve endings and muscles. This additional stimulation can be a predisposing factor for the cramps, and can often be brough on through excessive sweating as key electrolites are lost from the body.
It can also be caused by: inadequate calcium absorption due to a definciency of vitamin D, hyperventilation (overbreathing), vomiting, inadequate calcium and/or magnesium in the diet, and other conditions.
These can be combatted by ensuring that electrolytes are consumed during any periods of nausea or diarrhea, that a sufficient level of sun-light exposure is maintained, and that a good quality vitamin supplement is taken as part of a healthy and balanced diet.
Low potassium blood levels can also occasionally cause muscle cramps, although it is more common for low potassium although potassium deficiency usually results in weak muscles rather than cramp. Banana’s are an excellent source of potassium and are also an excellent source of energy before a workout.
The immediate treatment for muscle cramp is to stretch and gently massage the muscle. Use ice packs for severe cases and drink water or a sports drink, or better yet dextrose or maltodextrin – as a lot of the glucose in “sports” drinks will go to the liver as opposed to the muscle.
How can you avoid cramp?
Plenty of fluid and a nutritious diet along with a proper warm-up such as walking on an incline or x-training on a medium resistance for around 10 minutes will ensure that muscles are warm. NEVER STRETCH COLD MUSCLES AS THIS CAN RESULT IN TEARS IN THE MUSCLE.
Article Written by Georgia B. Simmons
Georgia B. Simmons is a Bikini Athlete and Competitor out of the UK. Read here featured interview here.