Muscle cramps are a standard situation skilled throughout endurance train and plenty of sports activities. Referred to as exercise-associated muscle cramps, these sustained and painful muscle contractions are inclined to happen throughout extended exertion together with train and bodily labor that ends in fatigue. Regardless of their frequency, the trigger and therapy for muscle cramps isn’t properly understood by many leisure and aggressive athletes.
Muscle cramps that happen throughout train are extensively considered attributable to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances within the muscle. This is smart, as muscle cramps appear to be extra doubtless throughout extended train in a sizzling, humid setting during which sweat loss may trigger a lack of each water and salt from sweat. Typically, EAMC are erroneously known as “warmth cramps,” regardless that they’ll happen in cooler situations. Moreover, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances would have an effect on all the physique, whereas muscle cramps happen solely within the working muscle mass, usually the gastrocnemius within the decrease leg. It is usually price noting that the simplest therapy for muscle cramps – stretching the affected muscle – doesn’t substitute fluid or electrolytes. These observations recommend that EAMC have a trigger aside from fluid and electrolyte loss throughout train.
Analysis additionally doesn’t help the notion that dehydration or electrolyte abnormalities are the reason for muscle cramps that happen throughout train. For instance, in a single research of opponents in an Ironman triathlon, there have been no important variations between those that skilled muscle cramps and people who didn’t in blood electrolyte concentrations or physique weight adjustments (an indicator of dehydration). The event of EAMC was associated to quicker race instances and a historical past of cramping. Different research in a laboratory setting present that muscle cramps nonetheless happen even when electrolyte steadiness and fluid substitute is maintained. These findings and different analysis led to the event of an alternate principle of the reason for muscle cramps throughout train.
Understanding the reason for EAMC requires a short primer in muscle physiology. Muscle contraction happens when nerves, from the spinal wire, referred to as motor neurons, stimulate the muscle mass to shorten and produce drive. The drive manufacturing by the muscle is managed by a bunch of receptors that both stimulate or inhibit the muscle. One in every of these, the muscle spindle, responds to stretch and causes muscle excitation. One other, the Golgi tendon organ (GTO), inhibits muscle activation and causes leisure. Working collectively, the muscle spindle and GTO regulate drive manufacturing throughout train.
Simply as repeated muscle contraction over time can result in muscle fatigue, the sample of the motor neurons stimulating the muscle may also be altered throughout extended, intense train. This causes an extreme stimulation of the muscle spindle and decreased activation of the GTO, leading to uncontrolled muscle contraction – a cramp. This additionally explains why stretching is an efficient therapy for muscle cramps. By partaking the GTO, the muscle relaxes and the cramp is finally relieved.
The prevention of muscle cramps is clearly of nice curiosity, particularly for athletes who’re susceptible to develop them. On condition that muscle fatigue is a situation underlying most cramps, ample coaching and conditioning to extend endurance is essential. There are a variety of common preventive methods, together with growing fluid and electrolyte consumption, consuming particular meals and drinks like pickle juice and bananas previous to train, and taking substances like quinine. Nevertheless, experimental proof for these methods to cut back EAMC is missing and their effectiveness is primarily based on anecdotal reviews.
For now, one of the best ways to forestall muscle cramps is to organize your self by coaching and diet for each the environmental situations and train itself. And in case you get a muscle cramp throughout train, instant stretching is one of the best ways to alleviate it.