How To Treat Muscle Cramps

hydration muscle cramps Sep 27, 2020

Muscle Cramps

With the FIFA Men’s World Cup going on, I’m sure you’ve seen what seems to be one of the most common ‘injuries’ in soccer: muscle cramps.

 

Characterized by the image above, we often see fellow teammates holding up the cramping leg and pushing at the foot attempting to stretch out the calf (which is typically what tends to cramp first for most).

And while you may have seen medical personnel run out and use the ‘magic spray’ to treat this, most of us don’t possess such a powerful potion, so it’s worth diving into why this actually happens and more importantly, HOW TO GET RID OF IT!

What Causes Muscle Cramps?

The most common cause of a muscle cramp is typically one of two things: overuse or dehydration.

With overuse, the constant activity (like doing a lot of muscle repetitions or sprints, for example) makes the muscle contract on it’s own-or twitch-because it is so fatigued.

It’s basically the muscle’s way of saying that it is exhausted and can’t go anymore.

With dehydration (which is usually the reason a player will cramp during a game), this is the body telling you that it has lost it’s fluids through sweat and doesn’t have enough in the tank to keep performing, so this causes the muscle to cramp, or go into spasm.

I’m going to focus on dehydration as the cause and explain briefly what this means and how to treat them in a practical way.

The Simple Science Behind Cramps

When we sweat, we lose fluids. But you probably already knew that.

We lose water, yes, but we also lose minerals more specifically, sodium and potassium  in our sweat.

When we lose these minerals in our sweat, it depletes our muscles from that fuel, and makes them ‘thirsty’.

At a cellular level (I promise I’m not going to get too technical here, so please stick with me), muscles contract in a system that is known as the sodium-potassium pump.

Yes, really. 

Basically, those two minerals are responsible for making our muscles contract properly. 

For this to happen, there always needs to be a balanced ratio and amount of sodium and potassium here.

So what does this mean?

When we sweat and lose these minerals, and don’t replenish them to the levels they need to be at, our muscles will get to a point of dehydration and fatigue that leads to the uncontrollable twitching and cause the muscle cramp.

If you’ve experienced this, you’ll agree that it is very painful and debilitating.

How To Prevent Muscle Cramps

Can they be prevented?

Yes.

And no, I’m not going to recommend that you just ‘hydrate’ because that is way too vague and doesn’t really help.

Yes, you need to drink more to hydrate, but drinking water alone is not enough. Remember, you need to replenish the minerals you’ve lost in your sweat as well.

So it is important to drink water + minerals (electrolytes) so that you get the best results.

The most practical thing to do to prevent cramps is to consciously drink plenty of fluids and eat foods that are rich in these minerals.

More importantly, on GAMEDAY you have to make sure you are drinking water with every meal PLUS something with electrolytes (like gatorade, powerade, smart water, or coconut water).

Making sure you do this with each meal will at least get you in the habit.

You can also check out this post for some easy tips to stay hydrated (ones you can actually follow).  

How To Treat Muscle Cramps

So, how do you get rid of cramps?

Once you are suffering from a cramp on the court or field, it is important to try to breathe and relax the rest of your body.

Most people usually freak out because they are in pain and tend to tense up their body, which can cause more cramping in other muscles.

The best thing to do is try to massage the area and gently put that muscle into a stretch.

GENTLY.

Keep doing this until you feel the cramping has stopped.

The challenge now as you step off and go momentarily to the sideline is to not have it happen again.

Especially if this is during a crucial game that you HAVE to go back into.

I’ve put together a list of sideline remedies you should have in case this happens:

Once you cramp on the field, in the middle of the game, it’s often tough to drink enough to replenish what you’ve lost.

Plus, who wants to chug 2 bottles of water or Gatorade and then get back in there? Barf.  

Hopefully you are able to get back into the game and finish.

Now you have to be aware that your body is very dehydrated and you need to replenish your levels overnight and into the next day.

Also know that you will be sore.

You will be VERY sore.

And you will feel it the next morning.

I recommend rolling out your muscle (the one that cramped) with one of these lovely gadgets the next day and apply a heating pad to the area for 10 minutes at a time several times in the day to help relax it.

You can also wear a compression sleeve-if comfortable-to keep that muscle warm during the day.

Eat Mineral Rich Foods

Here is a list of mineral rich foods to incorporate into what you eat on a regular basis as snacks or for game day.

Sodium Rich Foods

pickles, soy sauce

Potassium Rich Foods 

Fruits

bananas, prunes, apricots, dates, figs, kiwi fruit, orange, papaya, peach, raisins

Vegetables

potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, beetroot, lettuce, mushrooms, okra, lentils, sprouts, beans, peanuts

Magnesium Rich Foods

Whole grains, nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, pumpkin

Foods Rich in Water

watermelon, cucumber, pineapple, grapes

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