Dealing with Cramping Athletes


“True” Cramps

  • Involve part or all of a single muscle or group of muscles.
  • Usually caused by hyper excitability of the nerves that stimulate muscles.
  • Most common types of muscle cramps.
  • Associated with the vigorous use of muscles and muscle fatigue


  • Dehydration - excessive fluid loss from perspiration
  • Muscle fatigue – overuse
  • Sodium depletion – Sweat rate, concentration of sodium in sweat, dietary intake all are possible causes  
  • Low blood calcium, magnesium – increases excitability of nerve endings and muscles they stimulate
  • Low potassium – more commonly associated with muscle weakness

Muscle fatigue - The system that initiates muscle contractions is increased (hyper-excitement of muscle spindles) while the part of the system that inhibits contractions is decreased (Golgi tendon organ).  This would result in cramping only to the muscles that were fatigued.  In a case of cramping from dehydration, you would notice cramping throughout the body, and not just in one specific muscle. 

Symptoms of common muscle cramps

  • Severe pain
  • Must stop activity
  • Unable to use affected muscle
  • Soreness and swelling


  • Passive Stretching
  • Massage
  • Ice
  • Fluid and electrolyte replacement
  • Reciprocal Inhibition - Contraction of muscle on opposite side. 

What can make an athlete more susceptible to cramping?

  • Older age
  • Poor stretching habits
  • Poor conditioning
  • Cramping history
  • Excessive exercise intensity and duration
  • Metabolic disturbances


  • Stretching before and after exercise or sports
  • Proper warm-up and cool down
  • Proper hydration before, during, and after
  • Proper sodium intake