Cramp is a painful contraction of the muscle that happens involuntarily or without the athlete intending it to happen. Leg cramps affect most people training hard at some point in time with the hamstring muscles commonly affected.
Symptoms of a hamstring cramp
The athlete will experience a powerful involuntary contraction of the hamstring muscles at the back of the thigh. It can be particularly painful and they will have great difficulty in straightening the knee. Once the bout of cramp has passed the muscle may be tender, sore or even have suffered a rupture.
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 afterward. It is essential that a full rehabilitation programme with sports massage treatment is undertaken to restore the muscle to its original condition. The injury can be treated in the same way as a hamstring strain.
If you are suffering from a bout of leg cramps, stretch the muscles involved. Hold the stretch for as long as is necessary. A partner may be very useful in assisting with the stretch. 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 of any residual injury as well as prevention strategies.