Friday, 13 May 2016

Causes for Exercise-associated Muscle Cramps


Exercise-associated muscle cramps (EAMC) is a painful contraction of a muscle in a shortened position. The soreness after the cramps can last up to a few days. Acute muscle cramps can be easily alleviated by gentle stretching the affected muscle. There are a few proposed theories for the cause of EAMC. The dehydration-electrolyte imbalance theory and the neuromuscular theory of EAMC are the most commonly known causes.

The dehydration-electrolyte imbalance theory proposes that EAMC is a result of fluid and electrolyte depletion due to inadequate fluid ingestion and replacement. This leads to sensitisation of select nerve terminals and results in EAMC. Exercise in hot and humid conditions may facilitate muscle cramps by increasing the rate and amount of fluid and electrolytes lost. Miners are more prone to develop muscle cramps due to the hot and humid working environment. There are more cases of muscle cramps during the period of high risk for heat illness. However, there are reported cases where marathon runners developed EAMC in cool, temperature-controlled environments around 10 to 12 degree Celsius.

The neuromuscular theory suggests that EAMC is a result of an imbalance between excitatory impulses from muscle spindles and inhibitory impulses from Golgi tendon organs due to muscle overload and neuromuscular fatigue. A decrease in the inhibition from the GTO and an increase in the excitatory stimuli from muscle spindles may present during neuromuscular fatigue. This will lead to a heightened excitatory state at the spinal level. Therefore, EAMC often occurs when the muscle contracts in a shortened state, especially at the end of competitions and physical work.

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