Imagine you’re on a long bike ride, your longest distance ever, and you’re almost home but there’s one last hill to climb. You put your head down, churn the gears and suddenly your calf muscle contracts forcefully and painfully; and you have a cramp!
There are many reasons your muscles might cramp when being active. And you’ve probably been told varied advice about what to do. This information should help clear some things up about exercise-induced muscle cramps.
What causes muscle cramps during exercise?
There is no one reason why a muscle cramps during exercise, but it seems that sometimes nerves can get “overexcited” and tell your muscle to keep contracting when it should be relaxing. This tends to happen when going above and beyond what you normally do. Some people seem more prone to cramping than others.
You might have also heard that dehydration (lower fluids levels in your body), low electrolyte levels (such as salt), or being active in hot weather may cause cramping. Although possible, these are not the only causes; cramps can also happen during winter sports and when people are well hydrated.
How to get rid of muscle cramps?
Stop your activity and gently stretch or massage the affected muscle. Once you begin to feel relief, make sure you ease back into the activity. If you are having muscle cramps often, talk with your doctor.
How to prevent muscle cramps?
Although hydration and electrolytes don’t seem to be the only culprits, if you’re going to be active for over an hour follow this advice from the Dietitians of Canada. Gradual progression into your activity (not doing too much too soon) can prevent cramps. Also, if you are participating in a competitive event, do part of your training at the pace you plan to compete.
Muscle cramps may seem inconvenient, especially if they happen during an event like a race. However knowing more about the potential causes may help to prevent them, or at the very least help treat them when they happen to you. If you have questions about muscle cramping give us a call (8-1-1), the Qualified Exercise Professionals at the Physical Activity Line are more than happy to help.