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Health > Senior Health > Muscles cramp

Muscles cramp

Advancing age and a long history of running are both associated with the onset of leg cramping in older runners. Other risk factors, as you probably know, are high body weight (not necessarily being overweight), worn shoes, poor or nonexisting stretching habits, and awkward running technique

Although the exact cause of leg cramps is not well understood, there are two theories. The most current one is simply that fatigue interferes with the neurological mechanisms controlling muscle contraction. In your case, this makes sense because the exercising body tends to fatigue more easily as it gets older.

The other theory, which is long standing, is that cramps result from electrolyte imbalances and dehydration. Electrolytes are minerals that carry electric charges to the muscles to help them contract or relax. And insufficient amounts in the diet can lead to muscle weakness and cramps as well as other problems. Potassium, calcium, magnesium, and salt are the electrolytes of major concern.

Some sports nutritionists now tend to debunk the dehydration/electrolyte theory. They say that dehydration should not be a precipitating factor. Most athletes know how to stay well hydrated. Also, electrolyte replacement should not be a concern. The preferred hydration fluids among runners are sports drinks that contain electrolytes. In addition electrolytes are so widely distributed in the foods we eat that intake far exceeds need, even that required for marathoner. For example: Potassium is found in beef, fish, milk, fruits and vegetables, especially avocado, bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew melons, raisins, grapefruit, oranges and baked potatoes. We get calcium from milk, yogurt, salmon, shrimp, dark leafy vegetables, dried beans and peas. Rich sources of magnesium are whole grain products, nuts, apricots, dark green leafy vegetables, and soybeans. And generally we consume too much salt, which is in about everything we eat.

Prevention. There is of course nothing you can do about your age and running history. And if the sports nutritionists are correct about our electrolyte needs, supplementing your diet with potassium or other minerals probably offers no protection against exercise cramps.

This leaves eliminating other risk factors. That is, review your training schedule to be sure that you are not overtraining. Be careful about running hills and stairs. Have your technique evaluated by a knowledgeable coach or fellow runner. It may have deteriorated over time in response to increasing age related fatigue. Check your shoes for excessive wear.

And be sure to thoroughly stretch before and after every run. Stretching is very important, particularly for older athletes. A good way to stretch the vulnerable leg muscles is to stand, without shoes, two or three feet from a wall. With arms straight, place your hands against the wall. Now keeping your feet flat on the floor, bend your arms until you feel a moderate pulling sensation in the leg muscles. Stop and hold this position for ten seconds. Rest about six seconds between stretches. Repeat this six to ten times before and after exercise and before you go to bed.

Relief. To relieve a cramp, gently stretch the affected muscle. Hold the muscle in a stretched position until it relaxes, and the cramp does not recur when returned to the un-stretched position. Once the muscle relaxes, massage the area. Standing, walking or just pulling the toes toward the knee is sometimes enough stretching to relieve a leg cramp. In addition, applying ice or heat to the area for a few minutes while stretching may help.

If you get hit with a fairly severe cramp during your run, call it a day so that you do not injure the muscle. Finally, if cramps are a persistent problem, see your doctor. What is outlined in this column has to do with exercise cramps, not with cramps associated with medical conditions and diseases or with occupational cramps, nocturnal calf-muscle cramps, or pregnancy associated cramps.

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