We have all experienced it – you are jogging down the street or at the gym and suddenly get a sharp pain in your leg. This pain may be caused by a muscle cramp, or the sudden and involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles. Muscle cramps may be brought on by long periods of exercise, physical labor, overuse, dehydration, or muscle strain.

There are steps you can take to help prevent muscle cramps throughout your day:
  • Properly hydrate. Drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise will also help reduce the number of cramps you get while exercising.
  • Take the time to properly stretch out your muscles before you exercise.
  • Stretch before bed to help prevent leg cramps in the middle of the night.
Side stitch cramps are particularly common while running, and appear in the side of the torso. These types of cramps may be prevented by:
  • Avoiding foods low in fat and fiber close to the start of your workout. Give your body time to properly digest foods before you begin exercising.
  • Properly warming up before your workout. This allows your body time for your muscles to adjust. Warming up may also increase the quality of your workout.
  • Regulating your breathing. Irregular breathing patterns may lead to side cramps. If you have a side cramp, try exhaling when the foot opposite your side cramp hits the ground. Time your breathing with the timing of your strides. Not only will this help prevent stitches, but can also improve the efficiency of your air intake.

Though muscle cramps are common and are typically harmless, they may be caused by underlying issues such as inadequate blood supply, nerve compression, or mineral depletion.

You should visit your health care provider if:
  • Cramps cause severe discomfort
  • You notice leg swelling, redness, or skin changes
  • You experience muscle weakness
  • Cramps happen frequently
  • Cramps are not associated with any cause
To learn more, please visit the Mayo Clinic's website.

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