If you’ve ever had a cramp in your calf, you know how painful muscle cramps can be. What causes cramps? And how can you prevent them?
Muscle cramps when you exercise or overnight, when you’re sleeping, can be extremely painful. The muscles contract involuntarily, stiffen and you experience a pulling sensation.
If you get cramp in your calf while jogging, you can barely put your foot on the ground due to the pain. After a matter of seconds or minutes, the muscle relaxes again.
If you feel a cramp coming on, stretching helps.
But the best remedy for muscle cramps is prevention.
Make sure you have a balanced diet. This ensures your body has all the nutrients it requires. The food pyramid provides you with good guidance here.
A magnesium deficiency can be established with a blood test. This condition can be treated with preparations in powder or tablet form.
When doing sport or during other physical exertion, in particular, make sure to drink enough water or isotonic drinks. Don’t consume alcohol. This draws liquid from the body.
Warm up your muscles before sport. Start your training at a low level of intensity or complete warm-up exercises. Skipping or jumping jacks, for example, are suitable here.
Stretching after exercise helps your muscles to relax. Warming up before you exercise is even more important. Make stretching part of your daily life. This prevents tension and imbalances, keeps your joints and tissue structures supple and your muscles interact better with one another.
Tip: if you often suffer from calf cramps during the night, complete your stretching exercises in the evening.
Stretching keeps your muscles supple and resilient. The “Get your legs moving” program in the free Helsana Coach app improves your mobility. Download now and get started.
Cramping occurs when nerves send unclear impulses from the brain to the muscles. The muscles interpret these incorrectly and cramp up. Cramp affects our skeletal muscles, in particular. However, smooth muscles such as blood vessels, hollow organs and lymph vessels can also cramp up. The only exception is the heart: it is the only muscle that cannot cramp up.
If the concentration of minerals (electrolytes) in our body is imbalanced, for example in the case of a magnesium or sodium chloride deficiency, muscle cramps can occur. This happens when the body does not have enough fluid. This can be due to sweating or other reasons, such as drinking alcohol.
A shortage of minerals can also develop if our diet isn't right. Muscles can also cramp up, however, if they receive an insufficient blood supply or are too greatly exerted. This can often be seen during a football match. Towards the end of a game, footballers often suffer cramp in their calves.
The causes are often harmless. However, if you frequently suffer from muscle cramps that last for an extended period and are very painful, this could point to a metabolic disorder or a neurological illness. Consult your doctor in order to rule out serious illnesses.
Sports scientist Joy provided the editorial team with advice and input for this article. Joy Marxer (MSc in Sports Rehabilitation and Prevention) works for Helsana health consultation. She supports customers on questions to do with exercise and sports medicine.