Q: I keep getting muscle cramps in my legs when I’m at the gym—help!
A: Leg cramps are an involuntary sustained contraction of either your hamstring, quadricep or calf. And while there are no long-term effects from leg cramps, the momentary pain can impair your athletic performance. As for what causes them, “there are several hypotheses to explain the increased susceptibility, such as dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, mineral deficiency, fatigue and injury,” says Jon-Erik Kawamoto, a registered kinesiologist based in Burnaby, B.C.
The best relief for leg cramps? “Gently stretch the tightened muscle. Massaging it is also good to promote circulation in the area,” says Kawamoto. This will help remove any metabolic byproducts, such as lactic acid, in the area that might be contributing to the cramp.
Be proactive in preventing leg cramps, too. Kawamoto also recommends stretching and drinking plenty of water after your workouts to lower your risk of sustaining a leg cramp. In addition, be careful not to increase your workout intensity too rapidly. Plus, if you’re wearing high heels every day, you may want to switch to flats occasionally. “The change in ankle angle while wearing heels actually shortens your calf muscle and may contribute to a higher risk of having tight calves or sustaining a calf cramp,” says Kawamoto.
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