Have you ever been deep into your workout only to get stopped dead in your tracks by painful muscle cramps? Muscle cramps can be exceptionally frustrating and can make it difficult to achieve goals if you can’t finish your workouts.
What are Muscle Cramps or Spasms?
Skeletal muscles are attached to the bone by tendons. When the muscle contracts, the associated joint moves. Contractions are what cause arms to lift up, legs to bend, and even creates the smile on your face. Most of these muscles are controlled by conscious control of the brain or in other words, are voluntary contractions. However, muscle spasms and cramps are most commonly involuntary contractions of muscle.
Involuntary muscle cramps or spasms can occur when the muscle is overused or tired, particularly when it has been overstretched by being in the same position for extended periods of time. Effectively, the muscle runs out of energy and becomes dehydrated which causes it to be hyper excitable. When a muscle becomes hyper excitable, it results in a forceful contraction. This muscle spasm may involve part of a muscle, the whole muscle, or even multiple surrounding muscles.
Common Causes of Muscle Spasms
The exact cause of muscle cramps is still unknown, however there are many theories.
- Muscle cramps can be caused by doing unfamiliar exercise activities for the first time.
- Prolonged strenuous exercise in a hot environment can lead to excessive perspiration, dehydration and the loss of electrolytes such as salt, potassium, magnesium and calcium leading to muscle spasms.
- Narrowing of the arteries can lead to muscle spasm and cramps, because of an inadequate delivery of blood and nutrients to the muscle especially in the legs.
- Chronic neck and back pain can lead to muscles spasms.
- Muscle spasms can be the result of an injury, or they can develop because of arthritic changes in the spine.
- Intrinsic illnesses like diabetes, anemia, kidney disease, and thyroid and imbalanced hormones are all potential causes of muscle spasms.
How to Treat Muscle Cramps
Most of the time muscle cramps will go away on their own or with light stretching. However here are some tips to ensure they stop quickly and don’t get more severe:
- Stop the activity and gently stretch or massage the muscle until the cramp stops.
- Start any new activity gradually and avoid overdoing it.
- Always warm up before exercise
- Stretch after each workout session.
Muscles to Focus on During Stretching Sessions
Calf muscles and the Achilles tendon are commonly tight due to overuse. They are typically stretched by standing with one leg in front of the other with the heel of the back leg down on the ground. This will stretch the first calf muscle called the gastrocnemius. Next, bend the back knee, again keeping the heel down on the ground, to stretch the second calf muscle called the soleus. Hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
The hamstrings also need to be stretched. Sit on the ground with one leg bent (folded in) while you straighten out the other leg. Make sure you keep the toes on the straight leg pointed up to the ceiling and then lean forward slightly until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of the leg. Repeat with the other leg after you have stretched the first one for 30 to 60 seconds.
The quadriceps muscles are another important muscle group that needs stretching. Standing on one leg, bend the other leg behind you and hold onto the ankle with opposite hand. Gently pull the heel toward your buttocks. Repeat with the other leg after you have stretched the first one for 30 to 60 seconds.
The lower back is important to stretch since it tends to get tight from sitting all day. The “Cat-cow” is an excellent way to stretch the lower back. Start by getting down on your hands and knees, aligning your wrists underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Start with a neutral spine then arch your back up (like a scared cat) then let your back sag down. Repeat the cat-cow stretch and inhale and exhale with each movement. Continue for 5-10 repetitions, moving the whole spine. After your final exhale, come back to a neutral spine.
Hire a Professional to Ensure You Are Exercising at an Appropriate Level
Hiring a certified Personal Trainer through Infofit is one of the best investments you can make for your overall health and fitness. Working with one of Infofit’s certified trainers will help you achieve your personal fitness goals in a responsible, safe and efficient manner. If you are serious about a future, fueled by healthy eating, increased activity and infinite possibilities, then start with your very own Infofit life coach and personal trainer.
Cathie Glennon – BCRPA/SFL, Rehabilitation Specialist,