Leg pain athlete cramps calf

by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR

Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.

Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

Muscle cramps are common in athletes.

A muscle cramp is a sudden, involuntary spasm or contraction of a muscle. The most common cramp is the nocturnal or evening leg cramp.

These are sudden, extremely painful, muscle contractions that usually affect the calves. A hard knot develops. It becomes almost impossible to move the foot either up or down because the motion seems to make the muscle knot up tighter.

Over a period of time the pain may subside. Massaging the cramped muscle usually relieves the pain.

Athletes develop muscle cramps frequently. The most common causes in this group are a sudden increase in training routine – both intensity as well as duration- dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and insufficient stretching pre and post workout.

Metabolic disease such as thyroid conditions and diabetes may make an athlete more susceptible to this problem.

Other medical conditions that may predispose one to leg cramps are narrowing of the arteries in the legs or nerve root compression in the low back.

Certain medications may make one also more susceptible to leg cramps. The most frequent are the statin drugs used to lower cholesterol.

Finally, genetic muscle disease can also present as muscle cramps. If the cramps persist without a specific trigger being identified, a medical workup is indicated.

The most common electrolyte deficiencies involve calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium.

Cramps on the playing field can be treated with a combination of gentle stretches as well as replacement of fluids and electrolytes.

To gently release a muscle spasm, massage the cramped muscle while slowly pointing the toes toward your head. This latter movement helps stretch the muscle. All movements should be slow and steady. A quick jerk can bring the cramp back quickly. Copious ingestion of fluids are also warranted. Ice packs may also be of value. Ice spray has been used with alot of success by athletic trainers.

If muscle cramps seem to come on frequently, it’s important to spend time stretching the calves, preferably in the evening but also as part of the warm up and cool down with a workout routine.

Either stand facing a wall, about a yard away, place both hands on the wall, and while leaning against the wall, bend one knee and stretch the opposite calf for a few seconds. Then switch. Go back and forth for a few minutes. A variation is to go into a standard downward dog yoga position and do the same.

A small glass of tonic water at bedtime may also prevent leg cramps from occurring. This is because the tonic water contains a small amount of quinine. Quinine was the "old time" treatment for leg cramps. it is a potentially toxic drug and therefore should not be used without consulting a physician.

Severe muscle spasms can cause muscle tears. A physical therapist should be consulted. Sometimes muscle tears can be treated with platelet rich plasma (PRP) to hasten healing.

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