What Causes Leg Cramps And How To Prevent Them


Cramps – Causes and Prevention:

Do you ever get a stitch in your side, or a pain in your leg that awakens you at night or during a workout? What are cramps and why do you get them?


What are Cramps?


Cramps are a sudden tightening of a muscle, which can be caused by several factors such as musculoskeletal, neurological, or circulatory conditions. Musculoskeletal (muscle causes) factors can include over-exercising, overuse, or an injury.


Injury/Muscle Over-Use


In the case of an injury, the spasms may be an attempt to protect an injured area. Over-exercising can lead to over-using certain muscles. For instance, runners tend to run the same route day after day, which can lead to the same stress patterns to the body. Changing directions on a route, running on opposite side of the road, and tempo/pace can help alter repetitive patterns. Performing the same strengthening routine can also lead to overuse. If you are performing the same workout routine on the Total Gym, refer to the Training Deck to be inspired on alternative ways to strengthen the same muscle. For example, Calf Raises – lying on your back with the feet on the squat stand or toe bar is a common way to isolate the calves for strengthening, but how about trying Sprinter Start? Rather than Hamstring Curls with the foot holder accessory, try using the single leg pulley hip extension to work the hamstrings.


Furthermore, overuse or lack of stretching can contribute to muscle shortening, i.e. lacking flexibility. A shortened muscle loses its ability to effectively contract and produce force. Over time, if you are doing the same exercise or progressing in a routine, but the muscle is shortened then it can become strained and spasm. The Total Gym’s effectiveness is partly due to the ability to lengthen and strengthen simultaneously. It would also be beneficial to incorporate a stretch routine a few times a week. If you have not tried the double leg pulleys, they are a great way to stretch the lower body.


The Nervous System


Nerves innervate muscles and are responsible for muscle contractions. Nerves are sensitive to their environments. For instance, dehydration or poor diet can affect sodium, calcium, bicarbonate, phosphate, sulfate, chloride, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin B levels. These minerals and vitamins are vital for creating the optimal environment for the nerve impulses to illicit a muscle contraction. Drinking water and/or coconut water can help, and for some, electrolyte drinks can also help promote ideal fluid levels. Thankfully, online recipes for homemade natural electrolyte drinks are easy to make and cost effective.


The cardiovascular system plays an integral role in the health of the nerve. Diseases affecting the cardiovascular system can affect the nervous system. A good example is the spasm and pain felt with lack of blood flow during a heart attack. Peripheral artery disease, low or high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis are some diseases which can affect the nerves. With MD clearance, proper diet and exercise has been shown to help mitigate the deleterious effects of this disease. A 15-30 minute Total Gym workout helps your heart and leg cramps.


Lastly, this blog just touches upon some causes for leg cramps, but recognize that medications, hormones, and temperature, to name a few, can also facilitate leg cramps. If the cramps are occurring on a consistent basis then please seek medical advice.


Elizabeth Leeds, DPT

Elizabeth Leeds, owner of Seaside Fitness and Wellness, combines her background in physical therapy, personal training, and Pilates in her practice and teaching. As a pelvic floor physical therapist working at Comprehensive Therapy Services in San Diego, her passion for pregnancy and postpartum is seen in her mission to empower women with knowledge and understanding of their physical changes, and how to address them to prevent future issues. Additionally, Elizabeth is a Master Trainer and developer for Total Gym’s GRAVITY education.

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