Whether you call them cramps, stitches, or just pains in the butt, muscle spasms put a serious damper on any workout—especially considering they usually strike without warning.
No one is immune to muscle cramps. Your calf muscles, hamstrings, quads, arms, and abs are most likely to be affected. There are plenty of possible culprits too, including being dehydrated, having poor blood circulation, not stretching enough, or just fatiguing your muscles. The news only gets worse: Cramps can occur up to six hours after exercising (talk about a sneak attack!); the notorious charley horse often happens in the middle of the night—and you thought nightmares were bad. Luckily, scientists have found things you can do to prevent and stop muscle cramps in their tracks
- Drinks lots of water. Many experts suggest dehydration is a leading cause of muscle spasms. Plus, there are so many other upsides to drinking more water.
- Fill up on electrolytes. Low levels of sodium and potassium could be the reason for that side stitch. Influence of Hydration and Electrolyte Supplementation on Incidence and Time to Onset of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps. Jung, A.P., Bishop, B.A., Al-Nawwas, A., et al. University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC. Journal of Athletic Training, 2005 Apr-Jun; 40(2): 71–75. So down some Gatorade or better yet, grab a banana.
- Try a vitamin. Studies suggest magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B, D, and E can limit the likelihood of getting a muscle cramp (or at least ease the pain). A selected controlled trial of supplementary vitamin E for treatment of muscle cramps in hemodialysis patients. El-Hennawy AS, Zaib S. American journal of therapeutics, 2011, Mar.;17(5):1536-3686.
Assessment: symptomatic treatment for muscle cramps (an evidence-based review): report of the therapeutics and technology assessment subcommittee of the American academy of neurology. Katzberg HD, Khan AH, So YT. Neurology, 2010, Mar.;74(8):1526-632X.
Preliminary observation: oral zinc sulfate replacement is effective in treating muscle cramps in cirrhotic patients. Kugelmas M. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2000, Mar.;19(1):0731-5724.
Role of calcium and vitamin D in the treatment of muscle pain. Liang, R. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 1985 June; 29(2): 90–91.
- Jump around. When small nerves in our muscles get fatigued, cramping can occur. Luckily, jumping drills (a.k.a. plyometrics) keep these nerves from tiring. Do them a few times a week after working out to help prevent spasms.
- Warm up and cool down. A proper warm-up and cool-down, including plenty of stretching, can keep cramps at bay. So make sure to carve out time to get your body moving before working out and relax your muscles once you're done.
- Stretch the spot. Once the spasms start, stop, drop, and streeetch. Or treat yo’self with a massage to really hit the knot.
- Take a chill pill. When muscle cramps strike, take a break. Trying to push through the pain often makes the cramps worse and more severe. Increased running speed and previous cramps rather than dehydration or serum sodium changes predict exercise-associated muscle cramping: a prospective cohort study in 210 Ironman triathletes. Schwellnus MP, Drew N, Collins M. British journal of sports medicine, 2010, Dec.;45(8):1473-0480.
- Hit the pharmacy. Anti-inflammatory medications may help combat soreness from muscle spasms. Cramps and muscular pain: prevention with pycnogenol in normal subjects, venous patients, athletes, claudicants and in diabetic microangiopathy. Vinciguerra G, Belcaro G, Cesarone MR. Angiology, 2006, Jul.;57(3):0003-3197. It’s always best to check with a doctor first, of course, before making this your go-to fix.