Cramp - Why it occurs and how to avoid it?

Cramp - Why it occurs and how to avoid it?

, by Elliot Froidevaux, 4 min reading time

Published by UMARA: 2021-10-13 - Translated from Swedish to English.

Cramps - the great fear of all cardio practitioners! Over the years, most of us have probably experienced how our legs, arms or stomach stop working with us when we need them the most. You hear about all sorts of methods and things to do or eat to counteract this scourge. But what does the research actually say and what can be done about the cramps?

What is a cramp?
First, we need to understand what cramping is and why it occurs. One of the more likely theories as to why cramping occurs is the fact that the interaction between the Golgi tendon organ and the muscle spindle goes haywire. It has been seen in several studies that in case of muscle fatigue, the activity in the muscle spindle increases. It is a bit of a guardian in the muscle that tenses the muscle during quick unplanned stretches, and the more tired you get, the more prepared the muscle spider is for you to step crookedly or do something else stupid.

In case of exhaustion, the activity in the Golgi tendon organs is also slowed down, which does the opposite, it ensures that the muscle relaxes when the load is so high that the muscle risks being torn away from the skeleton. Your constant stretching of the muscle tendon tires and slows down the activity of our dear Golgi. It is simply that the muscle fatigue creates a slight imbalance in the system. The muscle spindle becomes overactive and tenses the muscle, while the Golgi is exhausted and unable to relax the muscle. This results in what you experience as cramping. This theory has flourished in the scientific world for over 20 years, but does not really reach us training individuals as quickly.

To solve the problem right away when you're out there on the track or trail and your thighs are cramping, it's best to let the muscle rest and start stretching the muscle. The stretch means that you do a manual restart of the Golgi tendon organ, which is then activated again when the tensile force in the tendon increases. You thus reset the system and cause the Golgi tendon organs to come to life, which causes your cramping muscle to relax.

But liquid and salt then?
One of the most common ideas floating around cramping is that it occurs due to fluid and mineral losses from sweating. This notion has existed since the early 20th century, but when scientific experiments have been done on this, it has been difficult to find anything that indicates that salt balances correlate with cramps. The levels of salts and minerals lost in the sweat have not differed between those who experience seizures and those who do not when examining individuals in controlled settings.

When it comes down to it, you don't know one hundred percent why and how the cramp occurs, or how best to solve the problem. More research in this area is required. Instead of adding lots of salt tablets or magnesium, one idea might be to focus on following a well-laid out energy plan. A fit body makes you last longer and your muscles may be able to last longer without cramping.

The most common reason for cramping is most likely that the muscles have been overstrained. You are simply too poorly trained and expose the body to a load that becomes too high. Not entirely unusual when you run, for example, the Vasaloppet or the Vätternrundan. How many of us don't take a little extra in competition compared to training.

Unfortunately, it is also the case that genetics seems to play a role, we have different susceptibility to cramps. But don't just blame genetics if you cramp easily, much can of course be influenced by more exercise.

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