Don't Let Muscle Pain Cramp Your Style

You're on the final leg of your daily run when a cramp strikes your lower leg. What causes this painful problem that's sometimes called a Charley Horse? Experts aren't exactly sure.

Cramps can occur during exercise when a muscle becomes tired from repeated activity and when there's a salt/fluid imbalance. The muscle suddenly contracts, often causing a very tight ball or knot.

Some cramps occur at night, long after exercise. Cramps do not mean there is a problem with the muscle itself; rather, experts believe they happen when the fluid and electrolyte imbalance catches up to you or when a nerve overstimulates a muscle. This can also occur without exercise, as a symptom of some diseases or drugs, and for other unknown reasons.

Most exercise-related muscle cramps affect the leg, foot, or calf because they're often in repeated motion.

Being in good condition can reduce the risk of cramps. If you get frequent muscle cramps or if you just started getting them and you can't point to a particular exercise, see your doctor.


The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends doing flexibility exercises before and after you work out to stretch the muscle groups most prone to cramping.

Drink plenty of fluids. That's even more important if you're working out for a long time or it's hot and humid. Unless you have a health condition or take medicine that requires you to restrict fluids, you should drink enough fluids during the day so that you have to urinate every 2 to 4 hours.

Before and after exercise, refuel your body with salty foods as this will help boost your electrolytes.

Stay in condition. Increase the amount and intensity of exercise slowly, over weeks and months.


If you're working out, stop at once.

Stretch and massage the muscle that's cramping.

Apply warmth to tense, cramped muscles by using a heating pad or taking a warm shower or bath. Apply cold to sore, tender muscles by using an ice pack.

Gently stretch the muscle. For example, sit with your leg outstretched, extend your hands forward, and pull your toes back toward your knees.

Make sure that you have consumed enough sodium and carbohydrates, especially if you’re exercising longer than 60-90 minutes.

Caring for the whole athlete

Whether you have questions about cramps, want customized training sessions or need care for a sports injury, the experts at Gwinnett Medical Center’s Fitness and Performance Center can help.

Because not everyone has the same fitness level or exercise goals, we believe in providing resources and care that are customized to suit each individual. Our specialists will cater to your unique needs to ensure that you get the most out of your exercise. 

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