Our expert says:
There are so many myths about cramping that a lot of what I have to say may come as a surprise to you. To start with, the bottom line is that cramping is not caused by mineral deficiency and so supplements do not help prevent them (at least not directly, although they may contribute indirectly, as I'll explain). A few years ago, a big study on 2 Oceans and Comrades runners found that when you compare the magnesium, sodium and calcium levels of runners with cramp with runners without cramp, there's no difference - that means that people cramp even though their mineral levels are exactly the same. So, this myth has come about based on very early studies in mines etc. and a lot of it has been driven by sports drink companies who want to market the products as a cure for cramp.The bottom line is that you are cramping even though your vitamins and mineral levels are normal.
So, then, what causes cramp? Without getting too technical, cramping is caused by a reflex stimulation of the muscle by the central nervous system - the muscle is constantly controlled by nerves and reflexes, and there's good evidence to show that a cramp occurs when the reflex control of muscle breaks down and the muscle is stimulated excessively. Exactly what causes this is unknown although it is known that fatigue is a major contributor - that's why people cramp late in races, more often they also cramp in the heat (it causes more fatigue), or when it's windy, a hilly course, or a tough race. In your case, you probably cramp quite late in the game, when you are starting to feel tired. If you remember back to the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, all those players could play 80 minutes without cramp, but the moment they had to go into extra time, they starting cramping, because their bodies are not used to playing for that long or hard – they just got tired. It also explains why you cramp in the muscles you use only for running and playing and not in the arms, for example - the muscles become fatigues, and this somehow interferes with the nervous system and the control of the muscle, causing them to cramp.
So, the immediate treatment for a cramp is to stop and stretch the muscle very well - tests have shown that as soon as you do this, the reflex control of the muscle is restored, and this stops the cramp immediately. In terms of prevention, stretching regularly to improve your overall flexibility may help, stretching before you play may also help, and then stretching during the game when you get a chance is also a good idea .
Then the other factor that helps prevent cramp is muscle strength. As I’ve mentioned, it's not a co-incidence that the people who cramp are often racing or playing very hard, or pushing harder than their training has allowed them. So, the training is very important, and getting to maximum fitness is vital. The gym training you say you have done should help, and so will just gradually building up a level of fitness that allows you to exercise a little harder before cramping. Running a couple times a week, playing more social games and building fitness that way, etc.. BY improving the muscle strength, you will delay muscle fatigue, and then hopefully the cramp won't occur.
So, these are the natural, more scientifically ways of preventing cramp.
I hope they work for you.
The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal
advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.