Muscle Cramps: Causes and Remedies

Written by
8fit Team @ 8fit
Written by
8fit Team @ 8fit
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One hot topic on most 8fitter’s minds is muscle cramping. We’ve all been there: you’re happily exercising (or just finishing an 8fit workout) and then out of the blue your foot, calf or side abdominals painfully seize up. 8fit’s coaches answer the most pressing questions about muscle cramps and unravels the mystery of this unpleasant condition.

What are muscle cramps?

Essentially muscle cramps are the involuntary contraction of your skeletal muscle system. However, to answer this question in more detail, we need to turn to the relatively young field of sports science. It’s worth noting that at this point in time there aren’t enough concrete scientific findings that draw a direct correlation between the root cause and effect of muscle cramps. There are many kinds of muscle cramps, but here I’ll be focusing the most prevalent type: Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC).

What causes muscle cramps?

There are a host of reasons why you’re experiencing muscle cramping; below you’ll find the 3 leading hypothesized causes:

1. Dehydration and mineral depletion

One theory is the Dehydration and Electrolyte Depletion Hypothesis. Exercise can compound or increase any existing dehydration and low electrolyte levels that you may have. So it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day, not just while exercising.

Mineral depletion is also a speculated cause, with low levels of magnesium, potassium and calcium being the main culprits. In layman’s terms, these regulating minerals aid in balancing the fluids within your body. No scientific findings conclude this as being the sole reason, but it’s worth being aware of.

2. Altered neuromuscular control

The Altered Neuromuscular Control Hypothesis is the one explanation that has received the most extensive experimental methodologies to substantiate it. Though further evidence is needed to support it outright, it is believed that this may have something to do with abnormal spinal control of motor neuron activity, chiefly when muscles contract in a shortened position.

3. Muscle fatigue

Along with most other theories about EAMC, muscle fatigue is one that originates from anecdotal clinical observation and is not scientifically backed. Still, muscle fatigue is seen as a contributing factor, due to many endurance athletes struggling with cramps when competing.

What can I do to prevent muscle cramps

Unfortunately, there are few quantifiably supported methods to ‘get rid of them’, but you can implement a few preventative measures to reduce their frequency.

  • Avoid dehydration and make sure that your electrolyte numbers remain high, this will help you experience a cramp-free workout.

  • You can try increasing your magnesium, calcium and potassium levels with supplements, again, this is a suggestion and has not as yet been scientifically verified.

  • Regular pre-exercise stretching and sufficiently warming up will go a long way to avoid EAMC. Passive stretching will also help alleviate pain when experiencing mid-training cramps.

Should you experience frequent muscle cramping, then we recommend you see a doctor as there are a few rare medical conditions that can predispose you to EAMC.

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