A marathon runner’s worst nightmare is developing leg cramps. Why does this happen, and what can be done to prevent it? In this blog post, we will explore the causes of leg cramps and offer some tips on how to avoid them.
When running long distances, one of the most common reasons that a marathon runner develops leg cramps is hip extension. Although this can be difficult to notice, hip extension refers to the movement of the upper thigh backward after the foot has contacted the ground. The hip and glutes are the muscles that power this movement, and hip extension is key to running faster. But what causes marathon cramping?
Rerouting contraction signals to compensate for fatigued muscles
There are a variety of causes for muscle fatigue in distance running, from lack of hydration to overloading. Marathon cramping, however, is more likely due to a type of cramp called a fatigue cramp. It is the result of the body’s inability to respond to fatigued muscles and occurs when neural mechanisms inhibiting muscle contraction are depressed. Instead, the brain triggers intense sustained muscle contraction, resulting in cramping. It can happen after miles of training or a hard workout or a long run.
Researchers believe that rerouting contraction signals to compensate for fatigued muscle tissue may explain marathon leg cramps. The study used electromyogram data, epidemiological studies, and animal experiments to show abnormal neuromuscular control during fatigue and acute cramping after a fatiguing exercise. The authors conclude that this phenomenon is a cause of marathon leg cramps in marathon runners.
Disturbance in fluid or electrolyte balance
While EAMC is often associated with large sweat losses during extended exercise, it can occur even when runners are exercising in a cool environment. Though it may contribute to some cases, it does not account for all cramps. In part two of this article, we will explore what we can do to prevent cramps and what we can do to treat them once they occur.
In sports and work environments, dehydration can cause unpleasant symptoms. While replacing lost fluids is important, it is not enough to replenish electrolytes. Symptoms of EAMC can be avoided by drinking more water or replacing electrolytes lost during exercise. A person should drink more water and sports drinks to ensure a proper fluid balance and prevent cramps.
A study published in J. Athl. Train. in 2003 found that a disturbance in fluid or electrolyte balance can be a cause of cramps in marathon runners. The authors concluded that the primary concern should be the development of effective treatment and prevention strategies. Although many epidemiological studies have been conducted to understand the causes of cramps, these findings are incomplete and do not assess the effectiveness of interventions. A randomized placebo-controlled trial is needed to determine whether any interventions are effective in preventing cramps and resolving the symptoms.
The theory that muscle cramps are caused by a disruption in the body’s fluid or electrolyte balance has been a popular explanation for these symptoms. However, well-designed studies have not shown a direct connection between dehydration and muscle cramps in athletes. While the theory has some merit, the research has a long way to go. The best way to prevent cramps is to drink plenty of fluid during and after exercise and to replenish electrolytes as needed.
The underlying mechanism is unclear, but the findings indicate that a disruption in the body’s electrolyte or fluid balance is a major contributor to cramps in marathon runners. The study used a group of 10 male runners to perform treadmill tests in a hot room. They lost between 1.5-2 percent of body weight through sweat. While the men were exercising, they drank either plain water solution containing electrolytes. They were then given electrical stimulation to induce cramps. The lower the electrical stimulation frequency, the more prone they were to cramp. Moreover, the electrolyte-enriched water increased the frequency of electrical stimulation.
Reduced hip extension
Several reasons can be attributed to decreased hip extension. One common cause is overextension, where the femoral head slides forward in the socket, putting increased stress on the labrum. Another cause is hip flexor strain, where the hamstrings slip backward, putting unnecessary strain on the tendons and ligaments. Fortunately, there are some ways to improve hip extension.
Increased running speeds, uphill runs, and speed work may cause this problem. Runners often lose form during marathons and other distance events, which places increased stress on their iliopsoas. A reduced hip extension may also be a sign of other problems, including osteitis pubis or sports hernia. The runner may also experience pain in the front of the joint.
If you suspect you might be suffering from leg cramps during a marathon, slow down and focus on your breathing. Try not to change your breathing because this could worsen the cramp. Drink a sports drink, gel, or both, and try to correct your posture. Stopping periodically to stretch and walk may also help you rehydrate. If you are already dehydrated, it’s best to stop and walk, giving the muscle time to recover.
If you experience reduced hip extension due to a running injury, visit your health care provider. Hip stress fractures are commonly missed due to the lack of obvious symptoms, so it is important to get a proper diagnosis. Different cases require different loads. Runners with anterior hip pain should decrease speed work and hills in their training to reduce the pain. If these are the primary causes, however, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Sodium depletion causes leg cramps and other symptoms of hyponatremia, a condition where sodium levels fall too low. This can happen due to excessive water consumption or excessive sodium loss from the body. Cramping is often one of the symptoms of hyponatremia and is a common problem for marathon runners. A case study was published in 1945 in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine.
Various studies have investigated whether hyponatremia may cause leg cramps in marathon runners. However, recent studies have shown that sodium depletion causes cramps in marathon runners, as well as those in 56-km road racers and Ironman triathletes. However, these studies did not look at the effects of dehydration on muscle cramps. The authors concluded that serum electrolyte levels are not relevant in predicting the onset of leg cramps.
Although salt and electrolyte depletion can lead to cramping, this theory cannot be proven. This is because sodium concentrations in the blood are not the same in crampers as in non-crampers. However, electrolyte intake can be a useful indicator of the level of sodium in the body. The researchers concluded that consuming more sodium or electrolyte-rich beverages can help prevent leg cramps in marathon runners.
While the overall sodium intake is important in preventing muscle cramping, it is not the sole cause of nausea and vomiting associated with running marathons. Sodium is not necessary to prevent dehydration or hyponatremia, but the supplementation of sodium is helpful to avoid these symptoms. However, athletes should avoid excessive sodium intake to avoid dehydration and hyponatremia. A study published in the Dig Dis Sci journal in 1990 concluded that sodium depletion caused leg cramps in marathon runners.
The results of the study showed that salt intake is related to the weight change between the start and the end of the race. Additionally, the sodium intake rate and total sodium intake were similar between runners with and without cramping. Sodium intake rates were significantly higher in those who reported leg cramps, but not in those who did not. The researchers concluded that sodium depletion may be the primary factor in the development of leg cramps in marathon runners.
It’s important to know why marathon runners develop leg cramps so that you can take the necessary precautions and prevent them from happening. By understanding what causes these muscle spasms, you can put into place prevention methods and treatments that will help you cross the finish line feeling strong and accomplished. Have you ever experienced a leg cramp while running? What did you do to relieve the pain? Let us know in the comments below.