Cramps are very common in team sports such as basketball and soccer, usually towards the end of the game. These cramps are generally caused by electrolyte imbalance (salt deficiency) through excessive moisture loss via sweating. Also muscles that get strained or streched when they are tired or overloaded tend to cramp violently.
Many people, especially older ones, get cramps in their legs or toes at night, or when people are resting. These cramps can be very painful and occur frequently, causing disrupted sleep and discomfort.
The cause of these nocturnal cramps is unknown, but they appear to be triggered by movements that shorten or contract the muscle or by simply placing the legs and toes in certain positions, such as pointing the toes in the feet.
This article reviews the research on activity related, and night and nocturnal cramps in the legs and toes.
It provides tips and home remedies for the relief and prevention of cramps in legs and toes.
Cramps during teams games mostly occurs in:
One commonly stated reason for muscle cramps, is that the loss of salt through sweating and dehydration which leads to electrolyte imbalance in the muscle cells, causing them to spasm and contract, and stay contracting (causing a spasm). The pain can be excruciating and the contacting and spasming muscle may 'pull' and cause lasting damage and pain. The only relief is to forcibly stretch the muscle out. On the soccer fields, player with cramp other get their teammates to stretch the muscles. After a cramp players are often given a 'salt' tablet and sports drink to replace some of the lost salt of fluid.
However, research has shown that there are multiple causes for cramp related to muscle tiredness. Salt deficiency is only an explanation for some of the cramps. A research study on ultra-marathon competitors found no significant differences in the salt levels between athletes experienced cramps, and those who did not.
An alternative reason is that is that tired and fatigued muscles may lose their contact with the brain through stress. The body may over-compensate by sending more and more contraction signals to the muscle that is failing to respond properly. Eventually the torrent of 'contract' signals may overwhelm the muscles causing spasms and cramps.
The various kinds of cramps are outlined below:
Injury - Frequent muscle spasms and cramps may occur as a shielding response to an injury. When this occurs, the spasm and cramping reduce movement, and this acts to stabilize the area of the injury. It is a compensation response. Injuries to the muscle themselves may cause the muscle spasms.
Awkward Positions and Straining - Cramps can occur when sitting or lying in an awkward position that strains the muscles and triggers cramps. Most people have had this happen to them when repairing the car or straining to change a light fitting. Any strenuous physical activities doing unfamiliar things can cause cramps.
Strong Vigorous Activity - Cramps are often triggered by vigorous use of muscles, which become fatigued. Sometimes the cramping does not occur immediately, but one or two hours later.
Excess Load Muscle Cramping - This occurs when the effort required by a group of muscles exceeds their capacity for the load. The stressed muscles cramp when they can no longer resist the load placed on them.
Electrolyte Imbalance and Dehydration Muscle Cramping - This type of cramping is caused by dehydration, electrolyte imbalance or often both. Hot days and strenuous activity can trigger dehydration-based cramping. Though mostly attributed to salt and sodium, studies have shown that potassium also plays a role. It is the ration of sodium to potassium that is important, and changes in the ratio in the blood or muscles can trigger cramp. Avoiding electrolyte imbalance and dehydration can be avoided by keeping the fluid levels up and drinking a good quality sports drink.
Resting, Nocturnal and Sleep Cramps - Night cramps are surprisingly common, especially in older adults. The exact cause of night cramps is unknown. Often these cramps are triggered by movements that shortens the muscle or holding the legs or toes in particular positions. Nocturnal and cramps when resting can often be prevented by doing stretching exercises before going to bed. Repeating the stretching every time people get up at night can also help prevent cramps. Getting adequate calcium and magnesium in the diet or via supplements can also help. Vitamin E supplements also appears to help many people.
Medications - Various medicines and drugs can cause cramps, via diuretic effects and dehydration and other causes. Doctors will normally warning patients of cramping as a side effect of certain prescribed drugs.
Most muscle cramps in the legs, especially the calf muscles, can be relieved by stretching the muscle out for a minute or so. Following-up with gentle massaging often helps to relax the muscle. Applying a heating pad or taking a hot bath to warm the muscles can also help. Ice treatments are really for strained and pulled muscles to reduce inflammation. If the cramping is related to fluid or sodium/potassium loss through sweating, then fluid and electrolyte replacement using sports drinks is recommended.
Warm-up, Stretching and Cool-Down - Adequate stretching and proper warm up and warm down exercises can relax tired muscles and help prevent cramps when exercising and during sporting events.
Remain Well-Hydrated - Keeping well hydrated before, during, and after various activities is also very important, especially in hot weather.
Talk with your doctor to try to find the specific cause. If none can be found, the following general prevention tips should be applied: