A Review On Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps


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A review on Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps.

There are two theories within the literature that are associated with Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMCs). The more recent theory ( Motor Control Theory) is about fatigue caused from overloaded or repetitive muscle contractions being the contributing factor to the onset of EAMCs, this is related to changes in motor control ( The way in which nervous systems produce movement) (J, C, Fentress 2001 et, al) due to fatigue. This results in increased excitement of the motor neurons (neurons located in the brain stem and spinal cord that via nerves supplies muscles with an impulse for contraction). This overexcitement causes a sustained contraction. The physiology behind the cause involves changes where there is an increase in Muscle Spindle (Sensors within muscle tissue that detect changes in muscle length or how far a muscle can be lengthened) activity and a decrease in Golgi Tendon Organ (Receptors within muscles tissue that monitor and respond to muscle tension needed for a particular contraction) activity, these act to inhibit muscle contraction when required.

An earlier documented theory (The Dehydration Theory) for the onset of EAMCs has been associated with dehydration and depletion of sodium / electrolyte levels in the body causing the onset of cramps. The use of electrolyte drinks to help decease cramping is a commonly adopted strategy regarding this theory. There has been research into this that disproved the theory however, in one study group athlete’s sodium levels were lower in those that did experience cramps.

What are the ways that EAMC’s can be prevented?

D Jahic, E Begic 2018, state that a combination of both the Motor Control Theory and Dehydration Theory is at the moment the most likely cause of EAMCs. Strategies that can be used to prevent EAMCs include having improved nutrition and hydration through diet, it is recommended to consult a dietitian regarding this. Other ways to prevent cramps include having Soft Tissue Massage from a Myotherapist or other Soft Tissue Therapist, corrective exercises designed to improve muscle function and biomechanics as well as, specific strengthening and endurance exercises with a focus of improved conditioning. Additionally correct training preparation will help to prevent EAMCs. Health Practitioners and Personal trainers can provide advice on this. The most effective way that EAMCs can be relieved at the time of onset is by stretching the effected muscle, stretching stimulates the muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs causing an inhibitory effect thus easing the cramp. Myotherapists and other Health Professionals can educate people how to perform this stretching correctly.

Author: Mark Kelly

Registered Myotherapist and Fitness Professional.


Qiu, J (2017) Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps - A Current Perspective. Scientific Pages Sports Medicine, 1(1):3-14.

Jahic , D (2018) Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramp-Doubts about the Cause. Journal of the academy of medical sciences of Bosnia and Herzegovina 30(1): 67–69

Fentress, J, (2001) Motor control, International Encyclopaedia of the Social & Behavioural Sciences

Motor Control translating research into clinical practice, 3rd edition, Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Shumway-Cook, A., Woollcott M, 2007.

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