Cramp in the Hamstring Muscles
Leg cramps are painful contractions of the muscle that happen involuntarily (i.e. without the athlete intending them to happen). Leg cramps affect most people training hard, particularly running at some point in time. The hamstring muscles are often affected. Occasionally if you are unlucky the quadriceps muscles at the front of the leg are affected as well.
Symptoms of Hamstring Cramp
- Involuntary contraction of the hamstrings.
- Pain in the muscle.
- Difficulty straightening the knee.
- Tenderness after the muscle has relaxed.
Causes of Cramp
Although the exact cause of cramp has not yet been successfully determined there are thought to be a number of possible causes including:
- Dehydration (not taking on enough water, especially in hot conditions).
- Low potassium or sodium (salt) levels.
- Low carbohydrate levels.
- Very tight muscles.
A bout of leg cramps may cause damage to the muscle. Fibres of the muscle may be torn due to the shear strength of the muscle contraction. If this happens the muscle will be painful for some time afterwards. It is essential that a full rehabilitation programme with sports massage treatment is undertaken to restore the muscle to it's original condition. The injury can be treated in the same way as a muscle strain.
What can the athlete do?
- If you are suffering from a bout of leg cramps, stretch the muscles involved. Hold the stretch for as long as is necessary.
- Gentle massage of the muscles may also help relieve the symptoms by encouraging blood flow.
- See a sports injury professional who can advise on rehabilitation.
What can a therapist do?
- Use sports massage techniques to improve the condition of the muscle.
- Advise on a stretching and strengthening programme.