Media, Hot Topics
Jan 22nd, 2019
Jan 22nd, 2019 / Nicki Chick
Three ways to reduce muscle cramp by Peta Bee, with advice from Matt Todman
The Times 22nd January 2019
1 Stretch, eat a banana and drink tonic water
Cramps are the result of involuntary contractions of muscles, although nobody knows precisely what causes them or why some people suffer more than others, says Matt Todman, a physiotherapist who is the director of Six Physio clinics in London. “You need to treat the symptoms rather than the unknown cause, and there are a few things I always recommend to clients, starting with regular stretching of the muscle that tends to cramp — both before and during the cramping episode,” he says. “You need to put the muscle under some tension when fully stretched, but not stretch too hard, or that might actually elicit a cramp.” Todman says that eating bananas seems to help — “it’s the potassium they contain that eases the muscle contraction” — and anecdotally “so does drinking a small glass of tonic water that contains quinine” before bed if you suffer leg cramps at night.
2 Try pickle juice or vinegar
Popular remedies for muscle cramping include magnesium supplements and good hydration, but studies have shown neither is really effective. Indeed, a 2012 Cochrane review suggested magnesium is “unlikely” to be of much help at all. What might work is drinking vinegar or pickle juice, the brine that comes with your pickled onions and gherkins. As unpalatable as it sounds, pickle juice is the treatment of choice for many; a decade ago a US survey of sports coaches revealed that 25 per cent recommended it to cramp-stricken athletes. This prompted a small study by Brigham Young University in Utah that showed that when cramp was induced in the big toes of a group of athletes, it was relieved 45 per cent faster when pickle juice was consumed compared with taking no action, and about 37 per cent faster than when the participants consumed more water. The scientists suggested it was down to the acidic vinegar in the pickle juice activating nervous-system receptors and disrupting the signal for the muscles to cramp. A few spoons before a workout might do the trick.
3 Pace yourself in workouts
If muscle cramps tend to strike when you exercise, it could be because you started a little too enthusiastically. A study of runners and triathletes by the University of Cape Town reported that participants who set off too quickly were more likely to experience exercise-induced cramping as a result of their muscles becoming tired. Those most affected in the trial were also more likely to have had a “history of cramping”, which suggested an affected muscle is more prone to cramping again.