Muscle Cramps: What Exactly Are They?

What are Muscle Cramps?

Essentially, a muscle cramp is an uncontrollable and painful involuntary muscle spasm. This can affect any muscle throughout the body, however the lower limb muscles such as calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and the foot are common sites of cramping. Cramps are harmless and do not cause any long-term issues. If cramps are occurring regularly for long periods this can be investigated by the doctor with a simple blood test.

What Causes Muscle Cramps?

Unfortunately the exact cause is unknown, however, outlined below are some of the reasons that are believed to cause these cramps.

During physical activity, we naturally start to sweat to cool the body down. In the process a water imbalance naturally occurs throughout the body i.e. more water travels out than in. This causes an imbalance in electrolyte concentration in the muscle cells which causes irritability. If this occurs throughout the muscle cells it can trigger a subsequent muscle cramp.

Muscle Fatigue and Tightness
It is suspected that muscle fatigue and muscle tightness also contribute to cramping.

How can you manage muscle cramps?

  1. Increase the amount of water intake you’re drinking daily especially if you live in warmer
    climates. The amount of water you should drink varies from person to person however a rule
    of thumb is between 8-10 glasses a day which is roughly 3 Litres.
  2. Try to stretch the muscle that is cramping.
  3. Increase electrolyte intake post exercise. Recovery drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade are available however there are many electrolyte drinks out there.
  4. Increase magnesium and calcium intake.
  5. Apply ice or heat packs on the muscle for a few minutes to help relax the muscle.

I hope this provided some insight into managing muscle cramps. If you would like advice on these issues, or have any other concerns, book an appointment with one of our lovely Physiotherapists.

To learn more about why it’s important to stretch, read our blog HERE
To learn more about foam rolling, read our blog HERE
To learn more about measuring exercise intensity, read our blog HERE

Miller, K. C., Stone, M. S., Huxel, K. C., & Edwards, J. E. (2010). Exercise-associated muscle cramps:
causes, treatment, and prevention. Sports health, 2(4), 279–283.

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