Did you know that physio can cure running cramps?
At Apex Clinic, our running friends and patients are always asking us how they can avoid getting cramps during or after running. Let’s face it, we all know someone whose race hopes have been totally scuppered by painful cramps in the last few miles of a marathon or midway through a high effort 10k race.
Understand cramps better to treat them at their source:
There are three main types of cramp: nutritional deficit cramps, neural irritation cramps and lactic acid build-up cramps. Understanding which type of cramp is holding you back will help you take action to prevent recurrence in the future.
Nutritional deficit cramps:
Cause: A deficit of sodium and chloride, imbalance in potassium levels and/or dehydration causes this type of cramping. Cramps occur in the hamstrings, quads, calf muscles and even in the hands and feet. As a result of sweating, often in hot, humid conditions, a whole body sodium deficit may develop.
Fix: Good hydration and taking drinks with added electrolytes, such as isotonic sports drinks containing a carbohydrate solution, can really help.
Neural irritation cramps:
Cause: Very often overlooked, this type of muscle cramp in the legs occurs from irritation of nerve tissue (the nerve root) in the spine or from irritation of nerve tissue (the nerve trunk) somewhere in its passage as it travels down the leg. Often nerve trunk irritation occurs after an injury in the same leg but in a different area of the leg and is caused by scar tissue irritation from this previous injury. Neural irritation cramps result from muscle fibre fatigue caused by over-stimulation of the nerve input to the muscle. This type of cramp is not widespread across the body, but tends to occur in the same area or areas, for example, in the calf very commonly.
Fix: Take a positive step to cure this type of cramp. If you are struggling from persistent cramping, particularly concentrated in one area, such as the calf muscle, we recommend you see one of our specialist spinal physiotherapists. A correct diagnosis of the source of neural irritation, either in the spine or in the leg itself, will allow a trained spinal physio to begin treatment on the back or leg to ease the cramps. In most cases it can be cleared completely.
Lactic acid build-up cramps:
Cause: As we exercise or run, our muscles use carbohydrates from oxygen in the blood (aerobic metabolism) to generate energy. However, as the muscles work harder during prolonged periods of exercise, the amount of oxygen runs short and the muscle cells obtain energy anaerobically by producing lactic acid. Cramps caused by lactic acid build-up can be widespread and may jump from muscle to muscle.
Fix: At Apex Clinic, we recommend regular soft tissue massage to help runners maintain their muscles in optimum condition during running season and also as a post-race recovery method. A once monthly sports massage will help to clear lactic acid and increase blood circulation to improve muscle health and flexibility.
Don’t let muscle cramps hold you back:
Muscle cramps are extremely uncomfortable, often striking entirely out of the blue to quite literally stop you in your tracks. The good news is, once you know what type of cramp you are suffering from, you can take action and, in many instances, treat the problem at its source using physiotherapy to avoid your race being ruined.