What Causes Muscle Cramps?

If you have ever had a muscle cramp, you know the little evil contained in each little spasm. It can take you from cruising along to huddled on the ground questioning your very existence. But why do muscle cramps happen and what should we do to fix or prevent them?


We have all heard the advice for curing cramps:

- Eat a banana every day

- Drink pickle juice

- Don’t start out too fast – slow down

- Your electrolytes are too low – drink a gatorade

- You got overheated – stay cool


You may have even tried some of these remedies with varying degrees of success! I’m sure there are plenty of other wild remedies for cramps that I haven’t even thought of or listed here.


What is a muscle cramp?


The prevailing theory behind muscle cramping is a breakdown of the neurological and chemical firing sequences. Basically, your muscle has a serious miscommunication with the nerve that leaves the “switch” stuck in the “on” position. When this happens, the muscle refuses to let go and can spasm and squeeze with a severe intensity.


What can we do about a muscle cramp when it is happening?


This is where the folktales come alive! Slamming a jar of pickle juice. Chugging a Gatorade. Having a friend stretch out your calf to make it relax. Eating 8 bananas as fast as you can. Massage the muscle vigorously. Take a gel pack. Take a specially formulated “cramp buster” supplement drink. The remedies vary and can have different rates of success per person, and we don’t really know which truly help everyone.


Why do cramps happen?


A study performed last year tried to assess the differences physiology among those runners who cramped in a road marathon. These researchers examined 88 marathoners and their levels of body weight change, urine concentration, sodium, and potassium levels. Among these 88 marathon finishers, 20 (24%) of them cramped during or right after the race.


If we want to believe the prevailing theory of electrolyte depletion as a cause of cramping, then we should see a significant difference between crampers and non-crampers for sodium and potassium levels. However, th