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Muscle Cramps by Dr William Chan

During many weekend runs, I see some runners have to walk back after experiencing muscles cramps. Some were seen stretching their muscles on the road side. A few were seen rubbing and massaging the leg with medicated oil and ointment to relieve their muscle cramps. I also have muscle cramps many times during and after my long run.

Muscle cramps are involuntary muscle contractions which can be extremely painful when they occur during a run or match. When you have a muscle cramp in your hamstring, calf or quadriceps you may not be able to continue to run or even walk. You may have to lay down on the ground in agony. Be ware of minor muscle tear which can present as if you have a cramp.

So why does this happen during the run or sports? Well it may be due to many factors; your body could be lacking in electrolyte like Sodium, Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, or some other mineral in your muscles. Most people put it down to salt which is not a common cause in Malaysia. Most of us eat plenty of salt in out diet in Malaysia.

Cramps in a runner are usually due to dehydration and heat illness. Our body can loses up to 2 liters of water per hour in our hot weather. When you run or exercise your body generates heat from your muscle activities. When the body became too hot, it can presents as heat induced muscle cramps.
Muscles fatigue or muscle running low in glycogen store which is the energy source, cramps can also occur. You could also suffer from cramps because your socks are too tight. This may decreases blood flow to your calves, which in turn might cause cramps in your calf muscles. Regular training in sports or run can lead to tight muscles which can predispose the muscles to cramps during your run. The muscles that are cramped most often in runner and many sports are the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Less common sites are back and toes. If you experience muscles cramps during the run, try the following tips.

How to avoid muscle cramps

  1. Maintain a well balanced diet.
  2. Take a multi-vitamin with mineral everyday if you train and run regularly.
  3. Drink 1 bottle 500ml water 30 to 60 minutes prior to your run.
  4. Drink half bottle 500ml water or one can isotonic drinks 10 minutes prior to your run.
  5. Drink at every drinking station during the run. Stop and drink 2 cups of water or 1 can isotonic drinks. Most isotonic and sports drink have carbohydrate and electrolyte which helps to replace electrolyte loss in sweat.
  6. Stretch before and after each run. Tight muscle should be stretched up to 1minute.
  7. Sports massage helps to relief tight and sore muscles.
  8. Avoid running with empty stomach. Try to eat your breakfast before the run.
  9. Powerbar or Powergel contain carbohydrate and electrolyte for your long distant run.
  10. Run in the cooler part of the day.

How to treat muscle cramps

  1. Stretch the muscle that is cramping.
  2. Cold spray or ices sponge for the muscles.
  3. Gentle massage the cramped muscle.
  4. Drink 2 cups of cold water or isotonic drinks.
  5. Once your cramps have subsided you may be able to keep running. Stop and stretch the muscle hen you feel the cramps is coming or the muscle is tight again.
  6. Loosen your socks during the run. If your socks are tight, replace it.

Questions to Dr William Chan can be directed to him. His contact number is 03-563 55113 or 012-252 1898. His e-mail is See also the Sports and Backcare Specialist page.



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