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Muscle Spasms

Joe Fleming explains how to prevent and treat muscle spasms whilst running.

Any athlete can experience a muscle spasm, but they are especially common among runners. If you have experienced one of these spasms before, you know how frustrating they can be, especially when you are right in the middle of a run.

Whether you are training for a big race and are struggling with frequent muscle spasms, or you just want to do everything you can to avoid experiencing one, keep reading.

Explained below is everything you need to know about muscle spasms, as well as how runners can prevent and treat them.

What are Muscle Spasms?

Muscle spasms are sudden, involuntary muscle contractions. They are often short-lived, but they can also be quite painful.

Muscle spasms are also sometimes referred to as "Charley horses."

A muscle spasm can occur in any muscle of the body, though they often are felt in the skeletal muscles of the calves and legs. Runners, in particular, are most likely to experience muscle spasms in the lower body.

What Causes Muscle Spasms?

There are many different reasons why a runner might experience muscle spasms. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Improper warm-up prior to beginning their run
  • Improper electrolyte balance (low sodium, magnesium, or potassium)
  • Dehydration

The above causes are most often responsible for acute (sudden, random) muscle spasms. For runners who deal with frequent, chronic muscle spasms, there might be a more serious underlying cause. Common conditions associated with chronic muscle spasms include:

  • Nutritional deficiencies and/or poor nutrient absorption
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Vascular disorders (peripheral artery disease)
  • Toxicity
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease

If a runner is suffering from an illness that causes excessive diarrhoea or vomiting, they may also be prone to muscle spasms.

Why are Runners Prone to Muscle Spasms?

Repetitive motion can also lead to muscle spasms, and runners, especially long-distance runners, repeat the same motions for extended periods of time as part of their sport.

Runners also tend to sweat a lot. While sweating is certainly not unhealthy, excessive sweating without proper rehydration and electrolyte replenishment can contribute to imbalances and dehydration, neither of which is good for preventing muscle spasms.

Why are Muscle Spasms Problematic?

Some runners think that muscle spasms are no big deal, especially if they only happen on occasion. In reality, though, whether the spasms are chronic or acute, it is important to take steps to avoid them and treat them properly.

Not only can muscle spasms be indicative of an underlying problem, but they can also increase a runner's likelihood of experiencing a more serious injury.

Many runners find themselves wondering what causes pulled calf muscles and other running-related muscle injuries. The answer, in many cases, is a muscle spasm.

Experiencing a muscle spasm during a run can throw you off your game and hinder your form. As a result, you may be more prone to pulling a muscle, tripping, or falling, all of which can set you up for some painful injuries.

How to Prevent Muscle Spasms

There are lots of things that runners can do to prevent muscle spasms, including the following:

Hydrate Properly

One of the most important things you can do to avoid muscle spasms while running is to make sure you are hydrating properly before, during, and after each run.

Try to drink between 16 and 24 ounces of water before your run. If it is particularly warm outside, or if you just feel like you need more water, you can also drink another 4-8 ounces right before you start running.

During your run, it is a good idea to consume between 6 and 8 ounces of water every twenty minutes. For longer runs (more than 90 minutes), make sure your water includes electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium, which are lost as you sweat.

Sports drinks contain these electrolytes, but they also, in most cases, contain lots of sugar. If you want a cleaner option, add some mineral salt to your water before you start running.

When you are finished running, consume at least another 8 ounces of water; you may need more depending on how much you have been sweating.

Warm-Up and Stretch Properly

A proper warm-up will also work wonders for preventing muscle spasms. A good warm-up will get your blood flowering and help prime your body for the activity you are about to do.

Before your run, do 5-10 minutes of light jogging. Then, follow it up with some dynamic exercises like lunges, high knee marches, or soldier kicks (lift your leg as high as you can while trying to touch your toe with the opposite hand).

Save static stretches (holding for 30-60 seconds) for after your run to cool down and loosen up your muscles. Doing these stretches before your run can increase your risk of injury.

Ease into Your Runs

You could also be setting yourself up for muscle spasms if you are starting your runs out too fast. Pushing yourself too hard at the beginning can cause your muscles to fatigue and increase your risk of spasms and other injuries.

Get Regular Massages

Regular sports massages can also be helpful for keeping the muscles loose and reducing the risk of muscle spasms. If you cannot afford regular massages, consider investing in a self-massage tool like a foam roller or massage stick.

How to Treat Muscle Spasms

If a muscle spasm occurs mid-run, stop and do some gentle stretching to try and loosen the area back up. You can also gently massage the area to stimulate blood flow and release the contraction.

It is also a good idea to make sure you are properly hydrated. Drinking water with some electrolytes may be helpful as well, and it can stave off future muscle spasms.

At the same time, if the cramping persists, this is likely a sign that your muscles are fatiguing. In this case, it is probably best to just take a break. Consider walking for a while to allow your leg to continue loosening up. This will help you prevent more serious muscle damage and avoid injuries.


Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • FLEMING, J. (2018) Muscle Spasms [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/article362.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Joe Fleming is the President at ViveHealth.com. Passionate about healthy lifestyles and living a full life, he enjoys sharing and expressing these interests through his writing. With a goal to inspire others and fight ageism, Joe writes to help people of all backgrounds and ages overcome life's challenges. His work ranges from articles on wellness, holistic health and ageing to social narratives, motivational pieces and news stories. For Joe, helping others is vital.

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