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The common cramp remains a mystery

Published on October 21, 2014 at 14:41 / Updated on May 16, 2019 at 19:44

Although very common, muscle cramps remain quite the medical conundrum. Most endurance sports enthusiasts skilled in triathlon, running and/or cycling have had painful encounters with this violent and often incredibly intense muscular contraction. In fact, as common as they are, cramps are still ambiguous because experts are unable to agree on a convincing biological explanation for this phenomenon.

Three hypotheses are often proposed to explain the onset of cramps. The first is dehydration. It would therefore seem that drinking enough fluids while performing a physical activity could be enough to prevent cramps. Yet, according to some studies, athletes who suffer cramps are not more dehydrated than their adversaries after an event.

The second is the electrolyte hypothesis which suggests that a loss of sodium and potassium is responsible for triggering cramps, particularly in very hot weather when there is profuse sweating for example. Drinking sports drinks high in electrolytes would therefore help prevent cramps. However, there are no rigorous studies to support this theory.

The third hypothesis suggests an imbalance between the nerve signals that excite the muscles and those that inhibit their contractions, which is thought to exhaust the muscle. The solution to preventing this type of cramp would be to train regularly but less intensely, and to stretch the problematic muscles frequently.

While some athletes have observed that massages relieve and prevent cramps, others rely on their favourite sports drinks and/or preferred vitamin supplements. If you often suffer cramps while exercising, perhaps trying one of these solutions could help. You should also know that certain medical conditions, such as narrowed blood vessels, compressed nerves, hypothyroidism or taking certain medications can be at the origin of muscle cramps. Do not hesitate to consult a health professional if you frequently suffer from painful muscle cramps.

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