Calf muscles ( Gastrocnemius or Soleus )
What are leg cramps?
Leg cramps are painful contractions of the muscle that happen involuntarily (i.e. without the athlete intending then to happen). Leg cramps affect most people training hard, particularly running at some point and a common site for leg cramps is the calf muscles.
Although the exact cause of leg cramps has not yet been successfully determined there are thought to be a number of possible causes including:
* Dehydration (not taking on enough water, especially in hot conditions).
* Low potassium or sodium (salt) levels.
* Low carbohydrate levels.
* Very tight muscles.
A bout of severe leg cramp may cause damage to the muscle. Fibres of the muscle may be torn due to the shear strength of the muscle contraction. If this happens the muscle will be painful for some time afterwards. It is essential the a full rehabilitation programme with sports massage treatment is undertaken to restore the muscle to it's original condition. The injury can be treated in the same way as a muscle strain.
What can the athlete do?
* If you are suffering from a bout of cramp, stretch the muscles involved. Hold the stretch for as long as is necessary.
* Gentle massage of the muscles may also help relieve the symptoms by encouraging blood flow.
* There is a theory that states if you pinch your top lip then a nervous reaction causes the cramp to go - worth a try.
* See a sports injury professional who can advise on rehabilitation and preventing future bouts of cramp.
What can a therapist do?
* Use sports massage techniques to improve the condition of the muscle.
* Advise on a stretching and strengthening to help prevent future bouts of cramp.
* It may be that you are not getting enough salt in your diet and this is a popular theory about cramp, however there is so much salt in processed foods in the western worlds diets that lack of salt is an unlikely cause of cramp.
How can sports massage benefit the rehabilitation of this injury?
* Massage can be beneficial in relieving cramp as it happens by stimulating blood flow and helping to stretch the muscle. Massage can also be of benefit in the days and weeks following a bout of cramp as well as in preventing cramp.
* When the muscle suffers cramp it goes into spasm. The spasm squeezes the blood out of the muscle like a sponge preventing the muscle from getting its nutrients. In addition, if the spasm is severe then there may be damage to the muscle (a muscle strain).
* The benefits of sports massage are to help to release tension in the muscle and stimulate blood flow. It can also help with stretching a muscle, particularly transversely or sideways in a way that normal stretching cannot.
* Massage must not be performed during the acute stage of this injury - usually 48 hours after injury. This is because if the is still bleeding then heat and massage will increase bleeding, not stop it.