The exact cause of muscle cramps is still unknown, but the theories most commonly cited include:
- Altered neuromuscular control
- Electrolyte depletion
- Poor conditioning
- Muscle fatigue
- doing a new activity
While all these theories are being studied, researchers are finding more evidence that the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is the principal pathophysiological mechanism the leads to exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC). Altered neuromuscular control is often related to muscle fatigue and results in a disruption of muscle coordination and control.
According to a review of the literature conducted by Martin Schwellnus from the University of Cape Town, the evidence supporting both the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses as the cause of muscle cramps is not convincing.
Until we learn the exact cause of muscle cramps, it will be difficult to say with any confidence how to prevent them. However, these tips are most recommended by experts and athletes alike:
Most muscle cramps are not serious. If your muscle cramps are severe, frequent, constant or of concern, see your doctor.
- Stop the activity that caused the cramp.
- Gently stretch and massage the cramping muscle.
- Hold the joint in a stretched position until the cramp stops.
- Improve fitness and avoid muscle fatigue
- Stretch regularly after exercise
- Warm up before exercise
- Stretch the calf muscle: In a standing lunge with both feet pointed forward, straighten the rear leg.
- Stretch the hamstring muscle
- Stretch the quadriceps muscle