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2727 Views 7 Replies Latest reply: Feb 26, 2011 11:16 AM by New Runner 2008
New Runner 2008 Amateur 31 posts since
Dec 10, 2008
Currently Being Moderated

Feb 23, 2011 12:39 PM

Calf Cramping

My problem is calf cramping and I'm not sure what to do about it.  I've been using the treadmill at my local gym since December instead of running outside due to the endless winter here in New England.  I notice that when I work out relatively hard, or for a long time, or both, I'm saddled with calf cramping all night.  So for instance, last night I warmed up by doing some cross training then ran on the treadmill at a 4% incline for a few miles at a good pace to do an anaerobic workout, then did a little more cross training to cool down (I hate warming up and cooling down on the treadmill, which I consider an infernal device, but that's another thread).  70 minutes total cardio, which is about average for me and a lot less than the 2 hours I expect to be running when I do my first half marathon in June.  That 70 minutes cost me dearly - I could not sleep last night without my feet pinned against the arm of a couch because if they flexed at all both calf muscles cramped immediately.  This has been happening now for about a year.  I did not seem to suffer this problem when I was running outside during the fall.  My left calf is more susceptible than my right.


Just to get the obvious out of the way:  I drink water all day and drink around a quart before going to the gym with dinner, then 1-2 quarts while working out.  When I get home from my gym I usually try to eat/drink something that is potassium rich like a banana and a glass of orange juice.  I warm up and, yes, I stretch at the end of my workout.  What am I not doing right?  Nothing seems to help.  Very frustrating - and painful.  Calcium maybe?  Any thoughts welcome.


Thank you.

  • Alee77 Amateur 24 posts since
    Dec 19, 2010
    Currently Being Moderated
    1. Feb 23, 2011 1:09 PM (in response to New Runner 2008)
    Re: Calf Cramping

    Calcium could be a cause.  but you could also be pushing your body too hard.  Here is an article on cramping--hope it helps you out.




    If you've ever had muscle spasms or muscle cramps, you know they can be extremely painful. In some cases, a muscle may spasm so forcefully that it results in a bruise on the skin. Most muscle spasms and cramps are involuntary contractions of a muscle. A serious muscle spasm doesn't release on its own and requires manual stretching to help relax and lengthen the shortened muscle. Spasms and cramps can be mild or extremely painful. While they can happen to any skeletal muscle, they are most common in the legs and feet and muscles that cross two joints (the calf muscle, for example). Cramps can involve part of a muscle or all the muscles in a group. The most commonly affected muscle groups are:
    • Back of lower leg / calf (gastrocnemius).
    • Back of thigh (hamstrings).
    • Front of thigh (quadriceps).
    • Feet, hands, arms, abdomen

    Muscle cramps range in intensity from a slight twitch or tic to severe pain. A cramped muscle can feel rock-hard and last a few seconds to several minutes or longer. It is not uncommon for cramps to ease up and then return several times before they go away entirely.

    What Causes Muscle Cramps

    The exact cause of muscle cramps is still unknown, but the theories most commonly cited include:
    • Altered neuromuscular control
    • Dehydration
    • Electrolyte depletion
    • Poor conditioning
    • Muscle fatigue
    • Doing a new activity

      Other factors that have been associated with muscle cramps include exercising in extreme heat. The belief is that muscle cramps are more common during exercise in the heat because sweat contains fluids as well as electrolyte (salt, potassium, magnesium and calcium). When these nutrients fall to certain levels, the incidence of muscle spasms increases. Because athletes are more likely to get cramps in the preseason, near the end of (or the night after) intense or prolonged exercise, some feel that a lack of conditioning results in cramps.

      Research Supports Altered Neuromuscular Control as the Cause of Cramps

      While all these theories are being studied, researchers are finding more evidence that the "altered neuromuscular control" hypothesis is the principal pathophysiological mechanism the leads to exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC). Altered neuromuscular control is often related to muscle fatigue and results in a disruption of muscle coordination and control.

      According to a review of the literature conducted by Martin Schwellnus from the University of Cape Town, the evidence supporting both the "electrolyte depletion" and "dehydration" hypotheses as the cause of muscle cramps is not convincing. He reviewed the available literature supporting these theories and found mostly anecdotal clinical observations and one small case-control study with only 10 subjects. He also found another four clinical prospective cohort studies that clearly did not support the "electrolyte depletion" and "dehydration" hypotheses as the cause of muscle cramps. In his review, Schwellnus concludes that the "electrolyte depletion" and "dehydration" hypotheses do not offer plausible pathophysiological mechanisms with supporting scientific evidence that could adequately explain the clinical presentation and management of exercise-associated muscle cramping.

      He goes on to write:

      "Scientific evidence for the "altered neuromuscular control" hypothesis is based on evidence from research studies in human models of muscle cramping, epidemiological studies in cramping athletes, and animal experimental data. Whilst it is clear that further evidence to support the "altered neuromuscular control" hypothesis is also required, research data are accumulating that support this as the principal pathophysiological mechanism for the aetiology of exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC)."

      Treating Muscle Cramps

      Cramps usually go away on their own without treatment, but these tips appears to help speed the healing process:
      • Stop the activity that caused the cramp.
      • Gently stretch and massage the cramping muscle.
      • Hold the joint in a stretched position until the cramp stops.

      Preventing Muscle Cramps

      Until we learn the exact cause of muscle cramps, it will be difficult to say with any confidence how to prevent them. However, these tips are most recommended by experts and athletes alike:
      • Improve fitness and avoid muscle fatigue
      • Stretch regularly after exercise
      • Warm up before exercise
      • Stretch the calf muscle: In a standing lunge with both feet pointed forward, straighten the rear leg.
      • Stretch the hamstring muscle: Sit with one leg folded in and the other straight out, foot upright and toes and ankle relaxed. Lean forward slightly, touch foot of straightened leg. (Repeat with opposite leg.)
      • Stretch the quadriceps muscle: While standing, hold top of foot with opposite hand and gently pull heel toward buttocks. (Repeat with opposite leg.)

      Most muscle cramps are not serious. If your muscle cramps are severe, frequent, constant or of concern, see your doctor.


      Cause of Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC) - altered neuromuscular control, dehydration or electrolyte depletion? M. P. Schwellnus. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2009; 43:401-408.

      Muscle Cramp. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.


  • flyzippio Pro 116 posts since
    Jan 18, 2010
    Currently Being Moderated
    2. Feb 25, 2011 8:27 AM (in response to New Runner 2008)
    Re: Calf Cramping

    This may seem like an odd question, but when you lay down at night - do you curl your toes?  I sometimes have an issue with Restless legs after i run and I noticed that as a resut I do an toe curl which sometimes will give me a painful calf cramp.


    You seem to be hydrating and taking care of general steps that most would suggest.

  • Surfing_Vol Legend 848 posts since
    Nov 6, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    3. Feb 25, 2011 9:35 AM (in response to Alee77)
    Re: Calf Cramping

    A WORD OF WARNING -- the article that was inserted in the response recommends stretching the cramping muscle.  More recently some PTs are recommending the exact opposite -- flexing the cramping muscle to help the contracting muscles contract.  In other words, if your calf is cramping, point your toes DOWN, not up.  Some authors have pointed out that "going with the flow" of a cramp prevents muscle tears that could occur if you try to stretch out a cramp.  This makes sense to me.


    It is my observation that the idea of  "strecthing out" a cramp confuses the cause and effect.  That is, a cramp stops the run.  Most of us stretch because we've been told that we are supposed to stretch.  When the cramp eases up, we assume that the stretching got rid of the cramp.  It is just as likely that stopping running caused the cramp to ease up.


    Once you get past your cramps, start on toe lifts to strengthen your calves.


    Good luck.


    Surfing Vol


    Surfing Vol

    "Victory through attrition!"

    Charleston Half-Marathon 1/15/2011 -- 1:52:03

    The Scream! Half-Marathon 7/16/2011 -- 1:56:00

  • ron6788 Pro 85 posts since
    Oct 2, 2010
    Currently Being Moderated
    5. Feb 25, 2011 9:41 PM (in response to New Runner 2008)
    Re: Calf Cramping

    Hi.  I would say your cramps are from the long distance and the elevation of your workouts.  Hills stress the calves more and long distances, if you're not used to it, can cause excess muscle fatigue.  I used to get cramps that awakened me as well, sometimes from just a long walk or hike that day.  The way I got rid of them was to keep up my regular workouts and to add in strength workouts on some days.  It's a good idea to take a day or two of rest in between intense workouts for rest and recovery, too.

    Education 5k ..........................................................:.25:39

    Mayapple trail 21 mi .................................................4:10

  • runtothefinish Expert 39 posts since
    Dec 8, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    6. Feb 26, 2011 10:42 AM (in response to New Runner 2008)
    Re: Calf Cramping

    I went through this a few years ago. I ended up in the ER because they were getting so intense every night that I finally couldn't walk.  Nothing really came up from their tests, so I started experimenting and finally here is what worked for me:

    I started drinking propel water after my runs...never had done this before and I drink copious amounts of water, so maybe I was flushing too much out of my body

    Started getting a massage every three hurt a little but then seemed to calm those muscles

    Epsom salt baths and compression socks after really hard workouts


    Hope you find something that works for you!!    

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