Have you ever flexed your foot the wrong way and experienced the excruciating pain of your calf cramping? Or how about having to stop an exercise because of a muscle cramp? Muscle cramps are painful and they can occur at the most random times, robbing you of your ability to do anything. But why does this happen?
A muscle cramp is an involuntary muscle contraction that causes a lack of mobility and above all, pain.
The majority of us experience muscle cramps in the legs and calf regions.
Unfortunately, it isn’t clear as to why we experience muscle cramps, but there are several theories. One major factor is fatigue — as the muscles become fatigued, it can lead to a higher risk of cramping. Another theory is that dehydration and an electrolyte balance can occur during workouts.
A recent review found a link between dehydration, salt depletion, and cramps, but could not determine that one causes the other. Furthermore, the study found no differences in hydration between those who experience muscle cramps and those who do not.
If an electrolyte imbalance was the cause, then all muscles in the body would be affected, not just the lower half, which rules out that theory too.
The review then suggests something called the altered neuromuscular control hypothesis. This suggests that the protective reflex action is disrupted, which occurs when the muscle is fatigued, thus causing cramping. Therefore, when the muscle contracts and signals are sent to the spinal cord to tell it to relax, this signal becomes inhibited and the muscle contracts longer instead of relaxing.
Unfortunately, it isn’t well known as to why this theory occurs either. Muscles tend to cramp more when they aren’t well conditioned, and they can fatigue easier. But the theory may explain nighttime spasms in seniors as older adults are less active and their muscles are shorter.
There has also been a theory connecting heat and cramping, but once again, fatigue may be more to blame than the heat itself. Cold temperatures may worsen muscle cramps, causing them to be more painful.
Some people may be more susceptible to muscle cramps such as athletes, males, and seniors. Hormones and body weight may also play a role in muscle cramping too.
If you experience a muscle cramp, the best thing to do is stretch it out. But be careful not to overstretch it because it could lead to damage. Work slowly and don’t push yourself beyond your limits.
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