03/14/2012 08:17 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Putting A Stop To Muscle Cramps

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:

Put A Stop To Muscle Cramps

For more on fitness and exercise, click here.