Help with Running Cramps

Running cramps, particularly running calf cramps, afflict everyone from the person going out for a morning jog, to elite athletes. And it's not just runners that get cramps they can be a factor in any sport - tennis, swimming, golf, cycling and triathlon. This site is dedicated to sharing ideas and information between sports people, athletes, health practitioners, anyone who enjoys training - for the best ways to prevent, avoid and treat muscle cramp.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Four ways to prevent nighttime leg cramps - A Great Article from the Harvard Medical School

This article has been reprinted from a recently published article by Julie K Silver MD, Harvard Medical School.

Do your legs cramp at night? If so, you are not alone. I've had leg cramps, and they can hurt long after the cramp goes away. They can also ruin a good night's sleep. However, there are ways to prevent them.

While it lasts, the pain from a leg cramp can be excruciating. Usually it goes away within a few minutes, though bad ones can cause lingering soreness. Typically, leg cramps affect the muscles in the calf (the large one is called the gastrocnemius) or along the sole of the foot.
The best immediate response is gently stretching the taut muscles. With the calf muscles, you can do that by grasping your toes and then slowly pulling your foot toward you.

Leaning forward against a wall while keeping your heels on the ground does the same thing. Just standing up and putting weight on the affected leg may help, though you should be careful about falling: Get some help if someone is there to assist you. Heat (from a heating pad or warm - not hot - water) or massaging of the leg and foot can also help muscles relax, although it's best to try stretching first.

Prevention tips

Here are four suggestions for preventing leg cramps before they happen:

1. Wear good shoes. Flat feet and other structural problems make some people particularly susceptible to leg cramps. Proper footwear is one way to compensate.

2. Loosen up the covers. Many people like to sleep under snug covers. But, especially if you're lying on your back, the covers can press your feet down, a position that tightens up the calf and the muscles along the bottom of the foot. Tight muscles are vulnerable to cramping. Just loosening the covers can help (see illustration below).

Tight covers can tighten your calf and foot muscles.

Loosening the covers and sleeping on your stomach with your feet hanging over the bed can keep them relaxed.

3. Stretch. Stretching your calf and foot muscles before you go to bed canhelp prevent cramps in the first place. Use the same techniques that stretchthe calf and foot muscles during a leg cramp. You can also try placing thefront part of your feet on the bottom step of a stairway and slowly loweringyour heels so they're below the level of the step.

4. Drink plenty of water. If you're active (that includes walking,gardening, doing housework), you need fluids to avoid dehydration. But don'toverdo it. High amounts of fluids can dilute the concentration of sodium inyour blood. This causes a variety of problems, including muscle cramps. Howmuch you should drink depends on how active you are and the foods you eat. Aswe get older, we tend to forget to drink enough water because the thirstimpulse becomes weaker with age. Some people also worry about adding more tripsto the bathroom, especially at night.

JulieK. Silver, M.D., is an assistant professor in the Department ofPhysical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard MedicalSchool. She is also theChief Editor of Books for Harvard Health Publications.


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