First come the little pangs and twinges, followed by involuntary twitches, then 20 minutes later full blown jerking muscle contractions as if you were sprinting, but you are not. Your muscles balled tightly in knots. An eternity has passed, the only thought being, what is the least painful way to get out of this.

Most cyclists have experienced muscle cramps; they may occur during a ride, immediately after, or even hours later. A seized calf or hamstring muscle is a frightening and painful experience. Cyclists even fall over sideways because pedaling is impossible. Cramps can occur just about anywhere, but often happen in the calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps muscles.

Cramps are Complicated

Cramps are involuntary repetitive muscle contractions. Doctors don’t truly understand why they occur, except that they do, a true medical mystery. Scientific studies are difficult to perform because cramps are an extreme situation. At best researchers are just looking at shadows and connecting the dots.

Rest assured we all receive truckloads of advice on how to prevent and treat them – friends, colleagues, coaches, doctors, dietitians all believe they have a solution. Common suggestions are to take electrolytes and vitamins, stretch and massage the muscles, or hydrate. And you may read an article about what causes cramps and how to treat them, and think to yourself, that’s great, I will just do that. But reading further reveals many more possibilities, all sounding plausible. These advice’s are helpful, but often the cramps still come.

Many medical conditions cause muscle cramps, such as electrolyte imbalances, nerve compression, medications, inadequate blood supply, blood vessel disease, thyroid disorders, or mineral deficiencies.  But medical conditions do not explain the frequency of cramps that cyclists experience. Mechanical reasons muscles cramp might be a change in bike position, muscle imbalances, or poor movement patterns. Whatever the cause, there is an electrical disconnect between the brain and muscles, i.e. a failure to communicate.

The leading ideas about the cause of cramps revolve around dehydration, electrolytes, and nerves.

More in the next post.

Doc Edwards