Muscle Cramps During Exercise

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Many people suffer from muscular cramps during exercise which may hamper their performance and result in poor technique, inefficient energy production, race incompletion, frustration and possible a risk of injury.

Cramps are common in the final stages of team sports such as football and rugby. Other athletes may suffer from cramps during long distance endurance races such as marathons (running), triathlons and the more prolonged endurance events such as ironman competitions and ultra-marathons.

People often ask about the causative factors of muscular cramps during exercise and also what the preventative strategies or remedies are to allow maximum performance during training and events. Many studies and researchers offer different theories on such factors but no concise study is able to confirm the exact nature and cause of cramping in athletes. Various factors may contribute to the onset and longevity of muscular cramps. Athletes may respond well to a wide range of various treatments or to a change in training methods and race preparation strategies. Therefore, the key is to experiment during training periods to investigate the most effective strategies and preventive measures to allow performance to excel for each individual.

The below points outline some of the theories which are thought to have a contributory factor to the onset of muscular cramps during exercise:

  • Excessive heat – A resultant loss of vital fluids and electrolytes;
  • Dehydration – Significant water loss within the body tissues;
  • Loss of electrolytes & minerals in the blood – The process of sweating and exercise leads to sodium & potassium depletion unless those vital stores are replenished adequately during exercise. Those exercising in excess of three hours are prone to insufficient sodium levels and the result can range from muscle cramping to more serious problems;
  • Muscle fatigue;
  • Insufficient training & fitness – Poor race preparation and an inadequate level of training may lead to the early onset of muscle cramps. The body needs to be trained specifically for a particular sport or event to allow for the adequate strengthening, endurance, fitness progression and the efficient physiological adaptations of body & muscle tissue.
  • Inadequate muscle extensibility (i.e. tight muscles);
  • Anatomical joint stiffness – This may result in overcompensation of specific muscles to allow adequate joint movement for performance. This problem is common amongst swimmers who suffer from overuse of their gluteal muscles (and resultant gluteal muscle cramping) due to lumbar spine stiffness;
  • Overexertion – Asking the body to perform at a greater level at an early stage of an event may produce secondary effects within muscles if the muscle tissue has not been trained for extreme exertion at such a stage. This is common amongst triathletes whereby excessive power and work produced during the swim phase may lead to cramping on leaving the water or whilst on the bike or run;
  • High accumulation of lactic acid within the body cells – Lactic acid is a by-product that is produced during particular types of exercise and such overload may initiate the commencement of cramps;
  • Age – It is often believed that older people are more susceptible to cramps;


Services to Prevent Muscular Cramps:

  • Physiotherapy – to relieve joint stiffness, muscle tightness, pain & other symptoms associated with a drop in performance & training level;
  • Sports & Deep Tissue Massage – to relieve muscle tightness, tension & spasm;
  • Diet & Nutrition Guidance – to assist with the correct guidance on fluid & nutrient consumption during rest, training & race periods (and other sporting competitions);
  • Sports Podiatry – to alleviate biomechanical problems, joint/muscular overload & overuse injuries to allow full training to continue at the desired level;
  • Fitness & training guidance – seeking expert advice will allow for the correct training regime, structure & intensity level to be put in place to help maximise performance;


The above information offers guidelines on what previous research and theories have thought may be contributable factors to the onset of muscular cramps during exercise. From such research, the services outlined above will help to assist with the continuation of full training to allow for those to compete and perform with maximal effort and performance.

Please feel free to contact the Manchester G4 Clinic (Didsbury) to speak to a member of the team for any questions that you may have.

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