Cramps in the calf muscles: causes and solutions

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When cramps in the calves of the legs occur during or after running, there may be several reasons for this discomfort. However, despite the fact that many sources of information boldly reprint articles about leg cramps from each other, sports physiologists, in contrast, have no such confidence in the causes of muscle cramps.

Scientists have theories about muscle spasm, but so far the conclusions of researchers are ambiguous, and the appearance of cramps is always unpredictable and spontaneous.

The case with runners is complicated by the fact that during a marathon or workout we lose electrolyte minerals, get tired, accumulate breakdown products, and become dehydrated. All of these things individually can theoretically cause muscle cramps, so it’s hard to make any claims.

In general, muscle cramps can be divided into three groups:

  • Fatigue – associated with too intense and prolonged physical exertion.
  • Nocturnal – have a sporadic (case-by-case) character and are currently idiopathic, i.e. their cause is unknown.
  • Symptomatic – associated with congenital or acquired diseases, in particular neuralgia.

According to studies, athletes with a high body mass index are the most susceptible to leg cramps among runners. They are of a mature age, have a long training history, and dislike stretching exercises.

The effectiveness of such preventive measures for marathon runners as stretching cannot be confirmed by some researchers. But runners do insist that it helps them, and an observation of a group of people concerned about night cramps has shown a reduction in the likelihood of their occurrence.

The best-known and most widely circulated theory on the Internet, that the legs cramp from a lack of electrolytes while running, turns out to be the least confirmed in fact. Analysis of electrolyte levels in the blood of ultramarathon finishers showed no significant differences. But the theory lives on and is apparently being studied further.

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Together with the electrolytic theory, other, less popular, theories of metabolism and environmental influences (heat and cold) proved to be unconfirmed. A direct effect of fluid deficiency on leg muscle cramps could not be found. However, dehydration can affect it indirectly, because it greatly accelerates muscle fatigue.

As for fatigue, the number of runners who complain about cramps in their calves increases as the distance increases. And while there may not be any complaints at all at 5 km, at the marathon the number of complaints clearly shows a correlation between cramps and muscle fatigue.

In addition, faster runners have more leg cramps than slower runners. All of the above is also true for cyclists.


Gradual adaptation to distance and pace is considered an effective strategy. It also saves you from injury. Running a marathon in 3 hours if you have been training for 4 hours is foolish, to say the least, and will also lead to cramps and other painful surprises.

Stretching is desirable in an athlete’s training arsenal, both dynamic and static. Do not do statics before a workout, but relaxation exercises are the way to go.

Some coaches emphasize strength and interval training for runners, as well as sports massage.

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