Researchers may not know what causes muscle cramps, but they have several theories. These include muscle overuse, poor electrolyte levels, dehydration and medical conditions. Studies have produced strange results, leaving the case open for continued speculation. Medical professionals still provide recommendations based on theories, however, such as using electrolyte drinks and exercising for shorter periods.
The first theory of what causes cramps is that the muscle is extremely tired. The nerve signals control both relaxation and contraction of the tissue. Some researchers believe that, during exercise or other activity, these signals come out of balance. The muscle does not get enough signals to stop contracting, or there are too many signals that tell it to tighten up and get involved – that is, the part of the neuromuscular system that is related to contraction is hypersensitive. A puzzle to this theory, however, is that, despite the hypersensitivity of the neuromuscular system, only the overworked muscle is affected, with others remaining in their normal states of relaxation or contraction.
The big problem with these types of cramps is that the rest is really the only remedy, which means that a person cannot continue their exercise or activity. This can create a bad or inconvenient situation in some cases, for example if a person is hiking alone and cannot return to the camp without assistance. For an athlete in the middle of a competition, it could mean the end of participation, eliminating the odds of progress or winning.
Poor electrolyte levels
Electrolytes are dissolved minerals in the body that have an electric charge. They play a role in getting nerve signals through the body and keeping the right amount of fluid present. These minerals are also involved in muscle contraction.
As a person exercises, the body produces sweat as a way to cool down. Moisture travels out of the body through the skin, leaving some electrolytes with it. Sodium helps the body retain the water needed for the muscles to function properly. If a person loses too much sodium as he sweats, increasing the intake of clean water is not very helpful because the body cannot hold it in fluid compartments of the body, including those in the muscles. He excretes it through further sweating or increased urination.
Fixing this is quite simple: the individual simply needs to drink something that has electrolytes in it. This will quickly stop cramps, and in many cases it will allow a person to continue their activities as he normally would.
One assessment with this theory is that different people have very different body makeups. One person may sweat a lot during exercise, while another will not. Similarly, some people lose more sodium during exercise than others. This means that some individuals may experience electrolyte-based seizures more than others. Coaches, athletes and others involved in sports need to be aware of this, because it means that it is not reasonable to expect all athletes to come through special events or exercises without cramping problems.
Noen eksperter tror at dehydrering er den viktigste grunnen til at muskelkramper skje. Når en person ikke får nok vann, prøver kroppen hans for å holde den der den er mest viktig, slik som hjernen eller hjertet, for å holde grunnleggende fysiologiske funksjoner kommer. Den mangel på væske i og rundt musklene, ifølge disse fagpersonene, er hva som forårsaker nervene til å bli overfølsom og initiere en krampe.
In the past, coaches used to hold back water from athletes before they had performed to expectations. This created a vicious circle because without water, athletes were more prone to cramps and be temporarily unable to continue. Professionals now are more aware of the role hydration plays in muscle activity, so most athletic organizations seriously reprimand trainers and other individuals who do not allow athletes to have access to fluids.
Certain medical conditions may be the source of seizures. A good example is narrower blood vessels, which can happen due to conditions such as plaque and heart disease. Narrow vessels prevent enough blood and oxygen from getting to the muscle, preventing it from relaxing and contracting properly. Medications that medical professionals prescribe to patients sometimes lead to intense hives, as well.
Although medical experts have some ideas of what can lead to muscle cramps, nothing is conclusive yet. Studies have shown, for example, that they have occurred in people who were well hydrated and who did not have poor electrolyte levels. Experts continue to research the problem, but the condition is still largely a mystery. It may be that all those theories are true to some degree rather than one being completely right or wrong.
Prevention and treatment recommendations
With the exact causes of cramps still to be investigated, it is not clear what the best method of prevention or treatment for the condition is. Despite this, given the theories, professionals usually recommend the use of electrolyte drinks, or adopt a diet that contains an adequate supply of both water and salt. They also recommend that people who are prone to cramping exercise for shorter periods or at a lower intensity.
- Sports drinks contain electrolytes that help fill the body with water and salt.
- Cramps can be motion induced.
- Drinking lots of water prevents muscle cramps.
- Stay hydrated to prevent muscle cramps.
- Low levels of electrolytes or fluid can cause cramps during long-distance runs.
- A man with a leg cramp.