Training man suffering from cramps

Published on October 30th, 2013 | by Joe Starks


Fitness Jargonbuster: Cramps

Almost all of us will get a muscle cramp at least once in our lives. Most of us will get plenty actually and some of us will get one pretty much every other day. It is a common and usually harmless situation, which can be quite painfully and disruptive at time. But what are cramps exactly and why do some of us get more than our fair share of them? Are they an illness or are some of us just more prone to have them? These and a few more questions we’ll answer in this fitness Jargonbuster article.

What is a muscle cramp?

Our muscles are made out of muscle fibers. These fibers work pretty much like elastic bands; they contract and then relax again, so that we can move our bodies with their motion. When large groups of fibers contract together, then we have a clear movement. Some of our muscles move by themselves, like those of our heart, but skeletal muscles are those we move voluntarily, like our arms and legs.

Craps usually occur in skeletal muscles in healthy individuals, with one notable exception: menstrual cramps.

When a fiber is forced to contract many times in succession very quickly, then it does not have enough time to relax to its full length. This means that every time the fiber contracts it becomes a bit shorter. When a large group of fibers becomes so short that they can’t contract any further then we have a cramp, which lasts pretty much as long as it takes for the fibers to fully relax again.

This makes it obvious why athletes have more cramps than the average person does. To get to the point where your fibers can’t contract any further and didn’t have time to relax either you must be working your muscles really hard or very clumsily. Cramps are thus very common during sprinting and extreme sports. Aerobic and any other activity that is slow paced and lets you breathe, causes much fewer cramps.

Typical causes of muscle cramps

Many action and situations can cause us to have cramps. It is noteworthy that you are more prone to cramps as you age, but children can have them too. Here is a list of causes of muscle cramps:

  • Tiring out a muscle group to its limit. Competitive sports or a sudden activity are the most common causes of cramps.
  • Pregnancy. Many things are a bit sensitive in a woman’s body while she is pregnant. Muscles are no exception and a pregnant woman might have more muscle cramps than she is used to.
  • Age. If you are older you are prone to muscle cramps.
  • Dietary deficiencies. Not having enough calcium and magnesium in your diet can cause muscle cramps
  • Medical conditions. People with diabetes, nerve dysfunctions and liver problems might suffer from more cramps.
  • Tetanus. In this terrible diseases your muscles cramp and cannot relax again.

How to avoid and handle cramps

A good way to avoid cramps is to simply know your limits and never surpass them. This might be hard when you are an athlete, so you have to live with the fact that as an extremely active person you will have some cramps in your life. Once you have a muscle cramp you should simply stretch out that limb and stay still. The pain might be excruciating, but it almost always subsided quite quickly. Afterwards try to let that muscle group rest and drink some milk for good measure.

If you have muscles cramps extremely often without obvious cause you should go to your physician and get yourself checked out. Having cramps even when resting is not uncommon, so don’t worry too much if you rarely get a cramp out of the blue or while sleeping.

Choosing an aerobic and slow paced exercise can help you avoid many cramps in your life. In general it is something we all live with and they are part of normal life. The vast majority of cramps is totally harmless and leaves no permanent damage, so you can just laugh them off whenever they happen.

Make sure you are eating well, exercising properly and you are careful when you are pregnant and cramps will never be much of a problem for you. Within 2 to 15 minutes you’ll be feeling as good as new again.

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