Legs like the Tin Man is not a good look…

By Katie Garner

We’ve all been there. It’s some incredibly random and non-humane time of night, when instead of being cosily cuddled by masses of deliciously soft duvet, you are instead adopting a rigid, plank like position whilst simultaneously gritting your teeth, attempting to clutch your leg and desperately trying not to whimper like a little lost dog. I never said this was a proud moment.

The dreaded cramp has struck again, where your muscles have suddenly and without warning, contracted or shortened, which causes pain as your leg muscles become tighter. Often attacking either the thigh, calf or foot areas, you cannot control or relax the affected muscle once it has gone into this hard, contracted state – hence the ineffective whimpering.  These spasms mostly occur in the dead of night in a stealth attack, and can normally last anything from a few seconds to ten minutes. After the spasm has passed, your leg may feel painful or tender still but at least you can move it again.

Image: www.babble.com

Image: www.babble.com

Cramp can affect many people, but for us athletic types, there are plenty of exercise based reasons why we may resort to circus style hopping in pitch black bedrooms. The most common cause is a lactic acid build up around the muscle, which happens during anaerobic respiration when we exercise / run around on court like headless chickens. Other triggers include overexertion, dehydration, lack of fitness or specific training, lack of electrolytes (which we lose through sweating), exercising in hot weather and also poor running techniques.

Although gently massaging the area can help loosen stiff muscles to some extent, the best form of counterattack is usually stretching out the affected area.

If cramp has hit your calf:

  • Stand in a lunge position and stretch the affected leg out behind you.

If cramp has hit your quads:

  • Stand upright, lifting your ankle towards your bum while holding the top of your foot. Make sure to pull your heel towards your bum.

If cramp has hit your hamstring:

  • Sit down and stretch the affected leg out in front of you, keeping the knee straight. Lean forward to touch your foot.

To try an avoid cramp completely, it is ideal to ensure that the muscle is stretched out during the course of the day. This includes making sure that you warm up and cool down after exercise, no matter how pesky and presumably time consuming this may appear to be. Keeping hydrated is another good tip so drink plenty of water. It is also a good idea to build up any new training regimes gradually, as this will give your body plenty of time to adjust to the new movements used. I think this was probably my mistake, as when I first started my half marathon training, I was clocking up the mileage in a sudden and short space of time, pounding the pavements with every free evening. This often resulted in a daily night time ritual of cramp, sometimes even in both legs, which resulted in poking my partner until he would massage my legs for me.

Although for us badminton types, cramp is usually exercise related, there are other causes, the biggie being pregnancy; however some medications and liver disease can also trigger these annoying spasms. Just remember to always stretch out your muscles whenever you exercise to try and combat any leg cramps that may want to visit you come bedtime.