Why do I get cramps and how can I prevent them?

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Muscle cramps are painful, involuntary muscle contractions that occur suddenly and can be temporarily debilitating. Research suggests the mechanism of cramps is related to disturbances within the nerves and muscles. There are many factors that may contribute to the development of cramps. These include:

  • dehydration
  • low salt levels (potassium and sodium)
  • inadequate carbohydrate intake
  • muscle tightness
  • muscle or neural fatigue
  • muscle weakness
  • a lack of fitness or conditioning
  • training conditions
  • equipment or footwear
  • certain medications
  • poor recovery between training sessions or matches
  • lack of sleep

Strategies that may help with preventing or reducing cramps include:

  • ensuring your fluid, carbohydrate and electrolyte intake is adequate
  • avoiding any alcohol or caffeine intake
  • performing regular stretches to improve muscle length
  • ensuring you are adequately rested and recovered between training sessions and matches
  • implementing a strength and conditioning program to improve muscle function
  • ensuring your footwear, equipment and training surfaces are appropriate
  • obtaining advice from your doctor in regards to any medications you are taking that could be contributing to the development of this condition

Calf stretch commonly used to alleviate calf cramps

Figure 1 – Calf stretch which may be used  in some cases to prevent or alleviate a calf cramp

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