One of the best ways to cope with hot and humid weather is to plunge into cool water and enjoy the summer. But sometimes while enjoying the water, we get severe pain to the calf or thigh (and many parts of the body for that matter). This pain is usually a cramp. A muscle cramp.
Some of us might have experienced getting cramps while sleeping, having severe involuntary muscle contractions happening mostly in the calves. Sometimes it is possible to “feel” a lump of muscle beneath your skin. I, myself, had a severe cramp while starting a 10-kilometer run. It prevented me from getting any medals. (Ha ha)
There are many causes of muscle cramps. A more common cause is muscle overload coming from excessive fatigue to the muscle. Even the fittest athlete can experience cramps, so one’s level of fitness is not a factor.
Other causes of cramps can be electrolyte imbalance due to excessive sweating after strenuous exercise. These kinds of cramps tend to be more extensive and generalized in nature, and many of the muscles of the whole body show a pattern of soreness and fasciculation (muscle twitches). Also, there are reports that people with diabetes may experience cramps more often.
Inadequate blood supply to your legs or a compression of the nerves may also be a cause, but in may cases the exact cause of a cramp is not known.
In Korean the cramp is called ‘쥐 (read ‘jwee’)’ a homonym of a mouse in Korean. People with a “special” sense of humor sometimes make a joke that the treatment of a cramp is to “bring a cat.” I have no opinion on that.
In cases of an electrolyte deficit that leads to cramps, it is a very bad idea to “massage and stretch” the muscles. Due to the deficit, the muscles do NOT efficiently stretch, and an inappropriate stretching would only lead to more severe damage to the muscle. Fluid and sodium supplementation may be of help.
Overload and fatigue-related muscle cramps tend to be localized to the same muscle group at a similar location and happen while the muscle is in a shortened position.
Before you engage in summer activities, try to gradually go into the water. Do not overdo the exercises, get plenty of water and salt into your system, and in the cases of localized cramps, massage and gently stretch the muscles that are involved.
A bit of preventative therapy will get rid of the “mouse” this summer.
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