Muscle Cramps and what to do about them

Muscle cramps are a regular visitor to Pilates classes.

Screams of pain echo across the studio as the culprit does a strange mat dance!

So what is the cause?

Many of my students tell me ‘I only get cramps when I come here!’

A muscle cramp is a painful spasm where the muscle goes into a hard, contracted state and you are unable to relax it. The pain usually subsides after a few seconds or minutes but it could last for 15 minutes or more, although this is rare.

Many cures are thrown around the room when screams of cramp pain can be heard ‘Eat bananas’, ‘dark chocolate’ or the favourite ‘gin and tonic’ (apparently the Quinine in tonic is supposed to help).

If the cramping is happening when you are not exercising and is something that you suffer from on a daily basis, then it may be down to a number of causes from medication through to diet.

For the sake of this blog though, I am just going to suggest possible causes for those who cramp only in class.

Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (to give it its’ proper name) often happens when you are asked to move into strange positions.

This happens a lot in Pilates. In Pilates we often ask that you extend your muscles, to lengthen them.

In everyday life we usually contract one muscle and lengthen another to create movement. For example, when you bend your arm your bicep muscle at the front will contract (shorten) and the triceps muscle at the back of the arm will extend (lengthen).

If you are new to Pilates your brain and muscles are being asked to perform and adapt to a new system of movement many times, which could cause faulty muscle signalling. This is when a muscle is stimulated to contract when it is expected to be stimulated to relax. This imbalance causes cramp because the muscles are confused.

To try and prevent this, when asked to point toes, try and lengthen the leg from the glutes down, do not grip with the toes or tighten around the calf too much.

For hamstring cramps try to focus on tightening through the glutes and stretching the hamstrings.

Some people are more likely to suffer from muscle cramps. Scientists have found gene markers that indicate Exercise Associated Muscle cramps can be hereditary. Those with a history of ligament injury are also more likely to suffer.

But at the end of the day muscle cramps will not kill you, so it is best to try and work through them.

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