Cramp is an involuntary contraction of the muscle which can not only be very painful but may also cause muscle damage in severe cases. Here we explain the possible causes, treatment, and prevention of cramp in the calf muscles.
- Cramp is a painful, involuntary contraction of the muscle. It goes into spasm and tightens up automatically.
- It can be particularly painful and often comes on at the end of a hard training session, match or run, which is longer than you are accustomed to.
- Cramp affect most people who train hard, particularly runners at some point in their career. Footballers often suffer if a match goes into extra time.
- A common site for leg cramps is the calf muscles. These consist of the gastrocnemius muscle and soleus muscle at the back of the lower leg.
What causes cramp?
Although the exact cause of leg cramps has not yet been successfully determined there are thought to be a number of possible causes including:
- Dehydration caused by not taking on enough water, especially in hot conditions. Low water means low blood volume which in turn affects the muscles.
- Low potassium or sodium (salt) levels. When we sweat we lose salts which need to be replaced. Most people will usually take on enough salt in their diet for this not to be a factor, however, if you are exercising in the heat for a couple of hours or more then an energy drink with electrolytes might be a good idea.
- Low carbohydrate levels. Carbohydrate is the main energy source for our muscles. If we run low this can have an effect on the muscles.
- Very tight calf muscles. Tight muscles have contracted and squeezed the blood out of them. The muscle then has restricted blood and nutrients which will affect how well it can work.
A bout of severe leg cramp may cause damage to the muscle. Fibers of the muscle may be torn causing a calf strain. Muscle fibers are torn due to the shear force of the involuntary contraction.
If this happens the muscle will be painful for some time afterward. It is essential the full rehabilitation program with sports massage treatment is undertaken to restore the muscle to its original condition. The injury can be treated in the same way as a calf muscle strain.
Treatment for cramp
If you are suffering from a bout of cramp, stretch the muscles involved. Hold the stretch for as long as is necessary. Gentle massage of the muscles may also help relieve the symptoms by encouraging blood flow.
There is a theory that states if you pinch your top lip then a nervous reaction causes the cramp to go – worth a try. See a sports injury professional who can advise on rehabilitation and prevent future bouts of cramp.
A professional therapist can apply sports massage techniques to improve the condition of the muscle helping tight or knotted areas relax. They can advise on stretching and strengthening to help prevent future bouts of cramp as well as examine whether dehydration, lack of salt or insufficient diet may be a possible cause.
It may be that you are not getting enough salt in your diet and this is a popular theory about cramp, however, there is so much salt in processed foods in the western world’s diets that lack of salt is an unlikely cause of cramp.
Sports massage and cramp
Massage can be beneficial in relieving cramp as it happens by stimulating blood flow and helping to stretch the muscle. Massage can also be of benefit in the days and weeks following a bout of cramp as well as in preventing cramp.
When the muscle suffers cramp it goes into spasm. The spasm squeezes the blood out of the muscle like a sponge preventing the muscle from getting its nutrients. In addition, if the spasm is severe then there may be damage to the muscle (a muscle strain).
The benefits of sports massage are to help to release tension in the muscle and stimulate blood flow. It can also help with stretching a muscle, particularly transversely or sideways in a way that normal stretching cannot.
Massage must not be performed during the acute stage of a calf strain – usually 48 hours after for a mild injury. This is because if there is still bleeding, then heat and massage will increase bleeding, not stop it.
What causes a constant cramp in your calf?
Cramps can be caused by dehydration or overuse of the muscle, as well as by lactic acid build-up in the muscles, and a runner or other athlete should be sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise. More serious conditions that can cause chronic calf pain include cysts and blood clots.
What causes leg cramps on calves?
Leg or calf muscle cramps, which occur when there is a muscle spasm, can also be a side effect of taking different medications, including diuretics, albuterol and donepezil. Another common cause of cramps is muscle strain due to overexercising. Although these are some main causes of calf cramps,
Why do my calves get cramps at night?
Injury to Achilles Tendonitis tendon. Pain due to some injury to Achilles tendon which joins the calf muscles with the heel might also intensify your calf cramps at night. This type of leg pain often will extend itself to the heels where the Achilles tendon is situated.
Can leg cramps be a sign of something serious?
Of course, sometimes leg cramps are just a sign that you need to drink more water or that you lack certain nutrients. There are cases in which leg cramps are a sign of something more serious like an infection of the kidneys.
How to reduce calf cramps?
Try the towel stretch.
- Lie down on your back.
- Place the towel under the ball of one foot. Hold both ends of the towel taut.
- Keep your knee straight and slowly lift it until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your leg.
- Adjust the towel so the ankle bends toward you. This helps stretch your calf muscles and relieve your nerves.
- Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
What causes leg cramps and how can you treat them?
An easy home remedy for leg cramps is to mix one tablespoon of calcium lactate and one teaspoon each of honey and apple cider vinegar to a glass of warm water. Drink this concoction at least once a day as a leg cramp treatment. Leg cramps are often caused by a potassium deficiency.
How can leg cramps be treated?
Treatment of leg cramp depends on the severity of the injury. To get rid of a leg cramp, the easiest way is to massage and stretch the muscle. Mild leg cramps can be relieved by topical muscle relaxants, massage oils, or oral analgesics.
What are the reasons for sudden cramps in a leg?
The most common cause of leg cramps is overuse of the muscle, such as when a person exercises too much. A person is usually also dehydrated when he overuses the leg muscles, furthering the risk of cramps. Injury to the muscle is another common cause of leg cramps, as is a lack of certain minerals.