What to Do About Muscle Cramps & How You Can Try to Prevent Them

Woman has pain during running

Muscle cramps can also be a painful companion on the path to your fitness goal. Muscle fibers contract unexpectedly and sometimes without warning, causing pain. This can happen during or after exercise.

The most commonly affected areas are the calves, feet and thighs. A muscle cramp can sneak up on anyone – from beginners to professionals.

Woman with a muscle cramp

WHAT CAUSES MUSCLE CRAMPS

For a long time fluid or mineral imbalances were considered the main cause of muscle cramps. However, up to date there is no evidence about the main cause of muscle cramps. What is known is that the cramps are an issue of the nervous system (motor neurons).

Still, different factors might be contributing to it such as: heavy training loads, high temperatures, aging, diabetes, lack of sleep, as well as above mentioned fluid and mineral imbalances (magnesium, potassium etc.) …. Most likely a combination of these will lead to a disorder in electrical impulses in the muscles that causes a painful cramp.

Good to know:

Cramps can be experienced in different forms. Generally, if a cramp is caused by fatigue, most likely during exercise, it is usually localized in one muscle and happens suddenly. However, cramps might also develop over time, be felt on both sides accompanied by lots of sweating and other signs of dehydration.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET A MUSCLE CRAMP

If pain occurs, you should take a short break from your activity. There is still no best evidence-based treatment, but two approaches seem to be helpful for many cases of muscle cramps:

  • Hydrate: Replacing water and electrolytes lost during exercise is advised. Even if it won’t be a remedy for all, avid exercisers that are more prone to cramps will likely benefit by this approach.
  • Stretch: If the cramp is caused by fatigue due to too much training load, it will probably decrease with light stretching and massage. Stretch the affected muscle gently during the cramp to help release some tension.

Man stretching

Watch out:

Aching muscles are a bad sign! Sharp, severe pain that happens suddenly could be a sign of an injury. In the case of severe pain, postpone your next workout for one or two days. If the pain lingers, consult a medical professional.

But the best thing is not to let it get this far.

HOW TO PREVENT MUSCLE CRAMPS

Here are a few tips for preventing muscle cramps:

  • Keep your muscles loose. Incorporate stretching and relaxation exercises into your training plan.
  • Include variety and minerals. Magnesium not only comes in the form of fizzy tablets. It is also found in whole grain products, green vegetables and bananas. Good sources of calcium, which is essential for muscle contraction, are dairy products, spinach and egg yolks.
  • Give yourself time and increase the workout intensity gradually. Your body first needs to get used to the new training sessions.
  • Even if it’s not the main cause of cramps, drinking enough fluids during sports is important. Especially on hot days (or if you sweat a lot during your workout).

Do you often have problems with aching muscles? Then our blog post on foam rolling and stretching might interest you.

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Runtastic Team Are you looking to lose some weight, get more active or improve your sleep? The Runtastic Team gives you useful tips and inspiration to reach your personal goals. View all posts by Runtastic Team »