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Muscle cramps are a sudden, involuntary and extremely painful contraction of the muscle that almost every athlete has experienced at some stage. The most common muscle cramps for runners tend to occur in the calves, which can occur during or after running and up to six hours after running, creeping in unexpectantly when one may be resting. While the exact medical root cause of running induced cramps is not understood, there are certain factors that are suspected to contribute towards the cramps. The main suspected reason for their occurrence is as a result of muscle fatigue. This can occur if you have increased your running mileage too quickly or if you are simply training without adequate rest days to allow your muscles to recover. However, they can also occur as a result of a sodium imbalance and/or dehydration. The latter is particularly true following prolonged exercise and sweating in the heat of the summer months when humidity is higher.
Warm Up & Cool Down Properly – With muscle fatigue being the main cause of muscle cramping, it is imperative to warm up correctly. A 5-10 minute warm up jog and some light stretching is recommended to loosen your muscles and any tension you might feel. Post run, ensure you are engaging in a proper cool down. Remember to gradually reduce your running pace into an effortless jog, then walk slowly for 5 minutes, rather than ending your run abruptly. In addition, intense stretching and/or foam rolling is recommended for your post run recovery.
Stay Hydrated – Certain studies have shown how consuming fluids to avoid dehydration can help prevent muscle cramps. Staying hydrated before, during and after a run is vital for maximum performance and to help in the prevention of muscle cramps. Remember, don’t wait until you are thirsty as a sign that you need water, at that point you are already dehydrated.
Replace Electrolytes – Excessive sweating can lead to a significant loss in electrolytes, which are known to contribute to proper muscle contraction. Therefore, it is necessary to restore lost electrolytes during and after running. We lose more sodium when we sweat in comparison to other electrolytes so in order to avoid dangerous low blood sodium levels, ensure you are replacing the sodium in your body with salty foods before and after exercise, or with sports drinks high in a variety of minerals.
Don’t Overexert Yourself – When preparing for a race, you really need to pace yourself. If you are pushing yourself beyond your fitness level, you are more likely to overexert your muscles and as a result suffer from muscle cramps. Train at the pace you plan to race, and make sure to include pace workouts, progression workouts and fast finish runs in your training schedule. This will ensure your body and muscles will be adequately conditioned ahead of race day.
If a muscle cramp does occur whilst running, a standing wall calf stretch or a lying down calf stretch, or a simple massage to the area can help relive the cramp. If you persist on exercising during a cramp, be warned that you can damage the muscle. Here at Ballsbridge Physio, we can help you if you have suffered a running related injury. Our physiotherapists are trained in treating a wide range of sports related injuries and offer assessments to evaluate your training concerns. To book an appointment, fill out our online contact form.