What do you do when you get part way into your exercise routine and your calf muscles begin to tighten up? It can build up slowly or come on suddenly. At some point, you have to stop and massage those muscles to get them to stop the spasms. Here is why your muscles do this to you and how to deal with it so they don't interrupt your day.
Healthy Muscle Behavior
Muscles are composed of a bundle of tissues that expand and contract. The muscles attach to bones at both ends and the muscle movement is what allows you to bend your joints. Within the muscle fibers is a protein, called myoglobin, which supplies oxygen to the muscle fibers. The blood supply to the muscles brings electrolytes and glucose to the muscle fibers. Oxygen, electrolytes and glucose are essential for the muscle fibers to expand and contract.
Spasms Occur When Muscles Get "Tired"
If any one of those three elements are lacking, the muscle fibers can't move normally. They don't have the energy to expand and contract as needed. The muscle may contract suddenly, causing a muscle cramp. This uses up more energy which can then lead to rapid tightening and stretching of the fibers, causing muscle spasms.
A number of things can cause this energy depletion and failure of your muscles:
- Exercising in hot weather which uses up the energy in the muscle sooner.
- Dehydration which limits the ability of the bloodstream to carry nutrients to the muscle fibers.
- Diet lacking in sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium, critical minerals needed by your muscle fibers.
You can have muscle spasms that last for a few seconds and go away as you massage and slowly stretch out the muscle. If you overwork a muscle, you can have a serious depletion of nutrients and create cramps so painful that you can't walk.
If you have frequent muscle cramps and spasms, a visit to an orthopedic doctor who specializes in sports medicine can determine what in your diet or routine is causing the problems. They can then make recommendations to avoid the muscle issues.
Prevention and Treatment
There are a few ways to reduce the risk of getting muscle cramps and spasms:
- Spend time warming up your muscles with exercises that slowly stretch them out to their full length.
- Stay hydrated by drinking water or an electrolyte supplement.
- In hot weather, drink more fluids and rest your muscles frequently.
- Before exercising, do not eat high sodium foods or drink beverages with caffeine. These deplete your muscles of needed water.
Should you have a cramp or muscle spasm:
- Use a hot pack to warm the area over the muscle and slowly stretch the muscle out.
- Use a cold pack over the area after stretching the muscle to reduce the pain.
Your doctor can show you specific routines to gently stretch muscles out without damaging the muscle fibers. For more help or assistance, contact resources like Orthopedic Rehab.