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  • Focus Health Physio

Muscle cramping: it can happen to anyone

We saw it happen to Carlos Alcaraz during his French Open final loss to Novak Djokovic earlier this year.


Under normal circumstances, skeletal muscles can be voluntarily controlled. Cramping is an involuntary “locking up” of the muscles, with an inability to release them. It is most commonly experienced in the calves, thighs, and arches of the foot. While it can be very painful, it is not considered an injury.


Although typically associated with strenuous physical activity, it can also occur while someone is inactive and relaxed. After cramping, it may take up to a week for the muscle to return to a pain-free state, depending on various factors, including age and fitness level.


So why does it happen?


There are three major factors:


1. Fatigue: Cramp sets in when our muscles are tired


2. Hydration: We get cramp when we have not drunk enough water


3. Conditioning: The less fit we are, the more likely we are to suffer from cramp


• It’s unclear how much influence each of these factors has.


Who does it affect?


Cramp can happen to anyone, but is usually a problem for sports people, particularly long distance runners and tennis and football players.


When does it happen?


It can set in during long bouts of exercise, particularly when the weather is hot and a player is dehydrating.


How can it be treated?


The immediate treatment for muscle cramp is to stretch and gently massage the muscle.

Ice packs can be used for severe cases. Water or a sports drink will help with dehydration.

Exercise can be continued after massage, but if the pain is too acute then 24 hours rest is advised.


How can you avoid cramp?


There is no fail-safe guarantee, however the following can help:


• A proper warm-up is essential


• Good fitness and conditioning


• Plenty of fluid and a nutritious diet.

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