How to manage muscle cramps
Oversensitive nerves leave us vulnerable to a sudden attack of cramps.
Wham! It strikes like a baseball bat. Agonizingly, uncontrollably, your calf grips like glue on steroids.
Unfortunately, this is something almost all of us have experienced. Muscle cramps are as painful as they are common, especially to the runner in training. Ironically, cramps happen just as easily during that final surge in a race as they do during the deepest of sleeps.
How can it be that two such different activities can prompt such a similar yet extreme body response?
The truth is, it’s what happens before you sleep or run that causes cramps. We have all heard the suggestion that bananas are great for cramps and–no monkeying around–this is sound advice! Bananas are rich in potassium, a chemical electrolyte that fuels the nervous system and promotes the normal contraction of muscles.
But there is a common cause that also ties in with nerve-muscle function. And simply incorporating this with your workout will work wonders.
Our muscle-nerve relationship is regulated by a sensitivity threshold. When threshold is normal, the muscle contracts on demand and with the appropriate amount of tension. But this can change. A local anesthetic given by a doctor or dentist temporarily raises the nerve threshold so you don’t feel pain. In contrast, vigorous exercise can lower the nerve threshold, over-sensitizing muscles and making them far more likely to contract. The level can drop so low that the muscle contracts with seemingly no conscious effort and with all fibres firing.
The result? An unplanned, uncontrolled, extreme contraction–a cramp. Imagine your car’s cruise control going haywire and flooring the gas pedal without you touching it.
The muscle-nerve relationship can be normalized by simply including stretches in your workout. Cramps are a sign that you are neglecting your stretches and your muscles are holding too much tension. This oversensitivity of nerves must be diminished.
After workouts, when the body is warm or after your pre-workout warm ups, make sure to stretch Even old-fashioned “hold for 30 seconds” stretches normalize the nerve-muscle relationship. This will prevent cramps from occurring. The tension and hardening of the muscles associated with frequent workouts will soften a little to the touch, but they retain the strength and endurance associated with conditioning. Best of all, those nasty surprises at nighttime, or the final stretch of that road race, will no longer happen.
More Inspiration: Speaking of cramps, here’s 3 common workout mistakes you could be making and they can help reduce the risk of cramps.