The Running Physio

TRP's Running Blog

Injury management, nutrition, training and running tips.

What's the Deal with Muscle Cramps?

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Last weekends Ottawa Race Weekend was a HOT one. Congrats to all the runners who raced, paced, cheered and organized! For those who love the heat, warm weather on race day can be a blessing, but for some warm weather brings on a different type of challenge - muscle cramps.

Most of us have experienced them at some point, they can range in severity, location and duration but as many runners can attest, they’re generally incredibly unpleasant.  Often attacking the calves, muscle cramps can at times and can be severe enough to sideline runners during a race. They've come up in conversation quite a bit lately and thought now would be the perfect time to talk muscle cramps! 

So, what are they? Simply put, a muscle cramp is an involuntary contraction of a muscle. Often times they are caused by muscle fatigue, muscle strain, or in the case of a warm race- dehydration and sodium balance. Prolonged exercise, especially in warm weather leads lots of sweating; that’s sodium leaving your body. Some theories suggest that sodium, along with other electrolytes, control muscle contractions by triggering nerve impulses. When sodium levels drop, the nerve signals go haywire and a cramp is triggered.

When preparing for a run or race in warmer weather try looking at the following factors to prevent muscle cramping. Stay hydrated, hitting the fountains or water stations when the weather is warmer is very important. Even if you don’t think you need a drink, take a drink! Drink electrolytes. Not everyone’s tummy can handle drinking electrolytes while running. If that’s you be sure to drink before and/or after your run, electrolytes contain salts and will help replenish your body with everything it just lost while sweating! Some people find great muscle cramp relief with carbohydrates and salt pills. And lastly, body temperature regulation. When it’s warm outside, our bodies heat up even faster meaning we don’t need to wear as much to be comfortable. Sweat is our bodies way of keeping ourselves cool! Keep in mind, these are meant as general guidelines as everyone's body is different. If you experience frequent muscle cramps, we recommend checking with your physician.  

If you get hit with a muscle cramp while you’re running try stretching and massaging the calf muscle, drink fluids (especially electrolytes), try walking around, and listen to your body. No one knows your body quite the same way you do, if the pain is too much, getting worse or not subsiding call it quits. Running smart is the best way to run!

Happy running,

TRP  :)  

Lauren Roberts