Claire Fallon, of Ardgowan School, asks :-

What causes cramp?

John Hellemans, a doctor specialising in sports medicine with Sportsmed, Christchurch, responded.

Cramp is a very common problem among athletes. Cramp is characterised by sudden, involuntary, persistent cramping or spasms in the muscles.

Cramp occurs more quickly in untrained muscles. Poor conditioning is the most common cause. If you go into a race unprepared and untrained then it is very likely that you will develop cramp as your muscles are not used to the particular movement. The stronger the muscles are the less likely it is that they will cramp up.

Cramp can also be caused by fluid loss through sweating which is called dehydration. Sweat contains a lot of body salt and lack of body salt causes cramp. Dehydration especially occurs in endurance events like marathon running or the triathlon. This type of cramp can be prevented by taking lots of fluids before and during the event. Athletes who have experienced cramp problems during hot weather conditions not caused by dehydration can try to add a little extra salt to their meals on the days leading up to the event.

Well conditioned athletes with a persistent problem with cramping during training and/or racing need to seek medical advice as there is a possibility that their cramp is caused by an underlying illness or deficiency. If all the tests are normal and the athlete is well-trained and hydrated, medication to stop the cramp can be tried.

The immediate treatment of cramp is through gentle stretching of the affected muscle.