Prevent Cramping

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An early morning run sometimes is the only opportunity we get to hit the trails. Unfortunately, falling out of bed directly onto the trail (still half asleep), is a recipe for injury. Some preparation is necessary.

Muscle cramps can cost any runner their PB (personal best), or even prevent them from finishing a race at all. Cramping occurs when a muscle contracts involuntarily, but most often affecting runners in the calf and thigh muscles. It can be caused by overexertion, dehydration, anatomical abnormalities, poor posture or insufficient stretching.

Dehydration occurs when the fluid loss during exercise drastically exceeds the fluid intake, as is the case with profuse sweating. The body’s electrolyte store becomes depleted which results in a sodium and potassium shortage. Without these electrolytes the energy pumps in muscles cannot contract effectively, causing the muscle to cramp. This electrolyte imbalance needs to be restored by replenishing the body with the correct amount of fluid and salt, during and after running.

Flexibility training plays an important role in injury prevention. Stretching increases the elasticity of muscles and improves joint range of motion. After a muscle contracted, muscle relaxation is required in order for it to prepare for the next contraction. If, however, this doesn’t happen the muscle will shorten permanently and cause frequent cramps.

If you are still cramping in spite of hydration and stretching properly, other causes such as over training and illnesses should be investigated. Take a rest day or two, or seek medical advice if the cramping persists.

Article by Lené van Heerden (Physiotherapist)
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