Magnesium is one of many supplements that can help patients avoid muscle cramps and finish strong
Whether you are competing at an elite level, pushing through to finish the last 50 meters of your fifth ultra-marathon, or suddenly have the opening for a perfect jump shot in your weekend-warrior basketball game with friends, there’s nothing that can pull you up short faster than a sudden sharp cramp in your thigh, foot or calf. The next thing you know, a sharp, searing pain can send you to the ground in agonizing pain.
Even if that cramp only lasts a few minutes, it can really pull you out of the moment. As you can well imagine, this sort of problem can also be very frustrating for your patients who are serious about their athletic activities.
Although muscle cramps can also occur as the result of age, illness or pregnancy, they are also extremely common as a result of exercise. What causes these cramps, how can you treat them, and — perhaps most importantly — are there treatments, such as supplements, that you can recommend to your patients to help prevent muscle cramps from taking them out of the game?
What causes sports-related muscle cramps?
The truth is that there is not one attributable cause for muscle cramps that occur as a result of athletic activity. Causes can range from muscle overuse or improper use, to dehydration, to low electrolyte levels, to heat exhaustion.1
A 2010 meta-analysis study in the journal Sports Health examined the theories given for sports-related muscle cramps in journal articles published between 1955-2008. In general, the theories fell into either one of two categories: Dehydration-electrolyte imbalance (which would include heat exhaustion) or neuromuscular cause.1
Standard treatment and prevention
Standard treatment for muscle cramps related to sports activities should account for both potential causes. Rehydration and electrolyte balance should be the first lines of treatment; with special care taken for any signs of heat exhaustion.1
Topical analgesics also can be applied directly to the affected areas to help loosen muscles, as well as appropriate use of heat, ice, elevation and compression. Standard prevention of future cramping should include stretching as both warm-up and cool-down, along with heat prior to exercise, and ice afterward.1
A 2002 study published in Medical Science Monitor examined the effect of 300 mg of a magnesium supplement upon muscle cramps for a group of 36 patients.2
All patients were switched between a magnesium supplement and a placebo during the course of the six-week study. More than three-fourths of the patients (78%) reported improvement in cramp symptoms with magnesium than with placebo (54%).
A 1998 article in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology evaluated the safety and efficacy of a vitamin B complex for treating nocturnal leg cramps for a group of 28 patients.3
Half of the patients received the supplement, while the other half received a placebo for three months. At the end of the study period, 86% of those patients taking the vitamin B supplement reported significant reduction in muscle cramps, while those taking the placebo reported no change from the beginning of the study.3
A sudden bout of muscle cramps can be anywhere from mildly frustrating to devastating, depending upon the level of competition for an athlete or situation. Fortunately, adding in regular supplements such as magnesium and a B complex is an easy way to guard against a sudden attack of muscle cramps hindering performance.
- Miller KC, Stone MS, Huxel KC, Edwards JE. Exercise-associated muscle cramps: Causes, treatment, and prevention. Sports Health. 2010;2(4):279-283.
- Roffe C, Sills S, Crome P, Jones P. Randomised, cross-over, placebo controlled trial of magnesium citrate in the treatment of chronic persistent leg cramps. Medical Science Monitor. 2002 May;8(5):CR326-CR330.
- Chan P, Huang TY, Chen YJ, et al. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the safety and efficacy of vitamin B complex in the treatment of nocturnal leg cramps in elderly patients with hypertension. Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 1998 Dec;38(12):1151-1154.