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Avoid Muscle Cramps Completely With These Tips

By Emily Abbate Octomber 23rd, 2020 | Image Source: GQ

The painful spasms can strike out of nowhere.

Have you ever found yourself clutching your calf and wondering what causes leg cramps? Ouch, right? Like the check engine light or a same-day 5 p.m. calendar invite from your boss, it always seems to happen at the least opportune time. Maybe you’re in the middle of a run, or perhaps enjoying your fifth episode in a row of Lovecraft County, when in an instant—the sharp, less-than-pleasant pain strikes. It’s not always the legs—it can be in your abdomen, or feet, or really anywhere. But what’s really happening when cramps pop up? Is there anything you can do in that instant to treat it? We talk to the experts to get the low down.

What causes muscle cramps?

Muscle cramps are sudden, often painful, involuntary muscle contractions that occur without warning. They’re usually coupled with muscle soreness afterward. Cramps that occur specifically while you are exercising are also known as EAMC, “exercise-associated muscle cramps,” and are most common in the abdomen or legs. A sudden cramp is when you’re not doing anything at all sometimes called a charley horse—those can even strike when you’re sleeping. But whether you’re in the gym or plopped in front of the TV, they’re all essentially the same issue. Cramps are typically a result of overuse, fatigue, or injury to a muscle, says physical therapist Deidra Debnam.

Although they may feel like a huge drag, they happen to protect you, she says. “The cramp could be your body’s protective way of preventing you from moving into potentially harmful positions or being under excessive load or stress that the body isn’t accustomed to or prepared for,” she says. Cramps can also occur when you’ve lost too much water and electrolytes (like sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium) through sweating.

What can I do to prevent cramps?

While there is no 100 percent guaranteed way to avoid the dreaded cramp, there are some steps that you can take that will make them less likely.

Fuel smart: Be sure to hydrate and eat nutritionally dense foods hours prior to running and allow time to digest. Hydration is extra critical when it comes to staving off cramps, adds Debnam, who recommends drinking about half of your bodyweight in ounces each day and replenishing fluids lost through sweat. “If you are attempting to rehydrate during a race when you are already dehydrated, it may be too late,” says physical therapist Natalie Niemczyk, owner of Revolution Running Company. “It takes time for the body to absorb these liquids and replenish. Combat this by staying hydrated hours beforehand and up to the start of your run.”

Put a stress on sleep: This doesn’t necessarily mean getting into bed earlier and logging 7 to 9 hours. You want to focus on getting the best quality sleep as possible, as well. Some factors that can play into this include the temperature of your bedroom (experts say cooler sleep is deeper sleep) and wearing breathable fabrics to bed.

Incorporate a proper warm-up: If you’re wondering what causes leg cramps and other painful spasms, a sudden increase in exercise distance or intensity without slowly building up is very often the culprit. Doing too much too fast may cause the body to compensate or become increasingly fatigued during your workouts, says Niemczyk. This applies to both your overall training training volume as well as your pre-workout routine—warm up before your workouts, and make increases to your overall training volume very carefully.

What do I do when cramps strike?

While you may want to power through cramping when you’re on the move, the best thing you can do is stretch and take a brief rest, then re-evaluate your form and mechanics. “You may be over-using a particular muscle group and underutilizing another, resulting in unintended additional load and stress on the muscle that you are experiencing a cramp in,” says Debnam. “Consulting with a physical therapist, strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer, or personal trainer may help you assess your movement technique.”

You could also massage the area to relax the muscle and reduce the chance of soreness afterwards, adds Niemczyk. If you’re someone who is particularly prone to side stitches, that ugh-are-you-kidding-me feeling that pops up underneath your ribs or along the side of your trunk, it’s extra important to focus on your breathing to help alleviate the discomfort. “Inhale and exhale fully and deeply,” she says. “Then slow down, adjust your pace, and massage the irritated area even if you’re on the move.”

Author: Emily Abbate

Source: GQ: Here’s What Causes Muscle Cramps—and How to Make Them Go Away

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