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Putting A Stop To Muscle Cramps

Posted: 03/14/2012 8:17 am

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By Laura Schwecherl

Cramps, stitches and spasms -- oh my! They sure are painful, but can we stop the pain or prevent them from happening in the first place?

Whether we call them cramps, stitches or just a pain in the butt, muscle contractions can strike without warning, putting a serious damper on any workout, practice or especially intense game of charades. But what's to blame for these uncomfortable muscle troubles? And is there a way to stop them in their tracks?

Crampin' My Style -- The Need-To-Know
It seems no one’s completely safe from muscle cramps, which commonly attack the calf muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, arms, and abs. But what’s going on behind the pain? In a perfect world, muscle fibers shorten and lengthen back up when they contract. A cramp occurs when the muscle fibers stay shortened, causing tension along with that irritable, squeezing sensation.

Muscle spasms can also happen off the court, creeping in when we least expect it. Cramps can occur up to six hours after exercise (talk about a sneak attack!) so we may not be safe even after hitting the showers. And don't rule out the notorious charley horse, which often attacks the leg muscles in the middle of the night (and we thought nightmares were bad news).

Cramp On, Cramp Off -- Your Action Plan
Sorry to say, there are no 100 percent proven ways to prevent these knots from tying up our workouts. Still, scientists have looked at ways that may help prevent -- or even stop -- a muscle cramp from occurring. So try out these suggestions for combating cramps:

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  • Prevention: Water Down

    When in doubt, hit the water fountain. Many experts suggest dehydration is a leading cause of muscle cramps (though other research doesn't blame a lack of water as the culprit). Worst-case scenario? Staying hydrated. <strong>More from Greatist:</strong> <a href="http://www.greatist.com/fitness/tech-spotlight-nike-fuelband-030712/" target="_hplink">Greatist Tech Spotlight: Nike FuelBand</a> <a href="http://www.greatist.com/fitness/a-look-inside-the-world-of-crossfit/" target="_hplink">A Look Inside the World of CrossFit</a> <a href="http://www.greatist.com/health/what-happens-when-you-black-out/" target="_hplink">What Happens When You Black Out?</a> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/erodzen/4852278866/" target="_hplink">edrodzen</a></em>

  • Prevention: Fill Up On Electrolytes

    A lack of sodium and potassium may be the reason for that side stitch. So down some electrolytes to get your fill. Or go bananas -- they're packed with potassium, too. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepon/15288615/" target="_hplink">keepon</a></em>

  • Prevention: Try A Vitamin

    Some studies suggest getting enough vitamins and minerals -- including vitamin B, D, E, magnesium and zinc -- may help ward off the attack of a muscle cramp (or at least help ease the pain).

  • Prevention: Jump Around

    When small nerves in our muscles get fatigued, cramping can occur. Luckily, jumping drills called plyometrics may help keep these nerves in our muscles from tiring. Do them a few times a week after working out to help prevent cramping. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/baileysjunk/3492255375/" target="_hplink">BaileyRaeWeaver</a></em>

  • Prevention: Warm-Up And Cool Down

    A proper warm-up and cool down may help keep cramps at bay. So make sure to carve out time to get those muscles movin' before working out and relaxed once done. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica/" target="_hplink">lululemon athletica</a></em>

  • Prevention: Keep Things Flexible

    Staying limber may help prevent cramps from creeping in. Don't forget to stretch before and after exercise. Try hitting the yoga mat, too. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica/4409140613/" target="_hplink">lululemon athletica</a></em>

  • Treatment: Stretch The Spot

    Once the cramping occurs, stop, drop and streeetch. Or treat yourself with a massage to really hit the knot. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/neeta_lind/215808255/" target="_hplink">Neeta Lind</a></em>

  • Prevention: Take A Chill Pill

    Once the pain begins, pull over. Overexertion or high-intensity training can cause cramps. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/3292145208/" target="_hplink">Mr. T in DC</a></em>

  • Treatment: Hit The Pharmacy

    Anti-inflammatory medications may help combat the soreness from muscle spasms. Or, try the alt route with herbal supplements shown to help ease cramping, too. It's always best to check with a doctor first, of course! <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/restlessglobetrotter/3058701116/" target="_hplink">Jason Rogers</a></em>

  • Treatment: Drink... Pickle Juice?

    Yep, it could work. But they may just be better on a sandwich. <strong>More from Greatist:</strong> <a href="http://www.greatist.com/fitness/tech-spotlight-nike-fuelband-030712/" target="_hplink">Greatist Tech Spotlight: Nike FuelBand</a> <a href="http://www.greatist.com/fitness/a-look-inside-the-world-of-crossfit/" target="_hplink">A Look Inside the World of CrossFit</a> <a href="http://www.greatist.com/health/what-happens-when-you-black-out/" target="_hplink">What Happens When You Black Out?</a> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/grongar/6019667931/" target="_hplink">Rebecca Siegel</a></em>

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