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Muscle Cramps during Competition

If you've ever developed severe muscle cramps during long-term exercise, the odds are that you never found out why it happened. Doctors in South Africa studied triathletes and found that most of the time, the muscles cramps were not caused by dehydration, thyroid disease, blocked blood flow, nerve damage, or mineral abnormalities of calcium, sodium, magnesium or potassium (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, July 2005).

The athletes with cramps had normal electrolytes and did not lose more fluid during exercise than those who did not suffer cramps. The researchers showed that the most likely cause is muscle fatigue or tearing of the muscle itself. Electromyograph (EMG) studies at one to five minutes showed markedly elevated electrical activity of the nerves controlling the cramped muscles. Therefore muscle cramps during long distance athletic events appeared to be caused by exercise-induced damage to the muscles themselves. If this is true, muscle cramps during endurance events can be prevented by slowing down when you feel excessive soreness in one muscle group or straining in a muscle. Of course, competitive athletes will not do this, and they pay for it with muscle cramps.

April 2, 2006

Checked 9/28/08

May 11th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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