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Inline secrets from the world's top skaters and coaches

This week's tip:

How to Deal With Muscle Cramps
What to do when they bring you to your knees

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By Nadine Currie Jackson

straining muscles

Strained to the limit, muscles are prone to cramps.
Photo: Darlene Prois


Pain is ... well, a pain. But it comes with the territory for all of us who train or play hard. It's part of athletic performance and pushing ourselves to be our best. The trick is to know when to heed pain's warning and when to persist.

It's all right to push through some kinds of pain, for instance the muscle fatigue we feel at the end of a race or workout.

But other kinds of pain demand — and require — our attention. Examples include chest pain, severe abdominal pain or the subject of this tip, muscle cramps.

Cramps are sudden involuntary contractions of our muscles. They are often so powerful that they bring us to our knees. Typically, they happen when we are pushing ourselves beyond our normal limits. But sometimes, they can happen while we sleep. (These are called nocturnal cramps.) If you've never had a muscle cramp, you're either lucky or not working hard enough.

Various things can trigger cramps, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalances, such as a low level of sodium, potassium, calcium or magnesium
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Soft tissue injuries, such as bruises

Here's what to do when you get a cramp:

  • Stop immediately or at the very least slow down
  • See if you can relax the affected muscles. One way to do this is to contract the antagonist muscles (muscles that do the opposite action). For example, if your hamstring cramps, try straightening your leg while applying some resistance.
  • Hydrate ... drink some water
  • Take a mineral supplement — even an antacid containing calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate will often help
  • Gently massage the affected area.

If the cramp persists or if you have frequent cramps, see a doctor. He or she can show you exercises to release cramps and can rule out any serious medical conditions.

Whatever you do, don't ignore muscle cramps. Trying to push past them can lead to torn muscles or worse.

Jan. 15, 2010


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Debbie RiceNadine Currie Jackson is a clinical massage therapist and researcher and educator at the college and university level. She has helped a wide variety of athletes over her career.  Nadine was a short track speed skater and won several medals at national and North American events and is now hopelessly obsessed with inline speed skating. She is a member of the k2/Asphalt Beach racing team.



Related reading:

Skate Tip of the Week Archive
Beginners Guide to Outdoor Racing
Beginners Guide to Inline Skating




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