Cramp: Causes, prevention and self care

December Issue 2021

We have all been in a rehearsal, class or free studio session and experienced a painful leg cramp taking you to the floor in a fit of laughter and cries in response to the shock of the pain. Lasting anything from a few seconds to numerous minutes, cramps can affect multiple areas of the body. Cramps are common in the different leg muscles such as the claves, quadriceps and hamstrings as well as other areas such as the feet, abdominal regions and the arms. There are many different causes for muscle cramp and there are ways to try and prevent it from occurring. Here I will discuss some reasons behind cramping and methods of prevention which you can enforce into your own practice. 

Muscle cramp is the shortening, spasm and contraction of different muscles involuntarily. These cramps can often be quite painful and afterwards, pain and discomfort can sometimes be experienced for around 24 hours afterwards. Pain relief can be taken after the cramp to soothe and relieve any discomfort experienced however, the effects will not take effect soon enough to impact during the initial cramping. There are some reasons behind cramping that we are unaware of however, there are many that we understand can therefore work to prevent these. 

Dehydration is the most common reason for muscle cramping. As dancers and athletes, we need to drink more water and fluids to maintain sufficient levels within the body. We require water for bodily and brain functions and it allows us to maintain a stable internal environment. This contributes to natural internal processes such as blood flow and circulation around the body, affecting the transportation of nutrients and oxygen to muscles, and temperature regulation. 80% of our water intake is said to come from drinks with the other 20% coming from what we eat. Fruits such as melon and watermelon are examples of foods high in water. Our muscles require water in order to function properly as well as other nutrients called electrolytes. Potassium, calcium, sodium and magnesium are all electrolyte nutrients which can be found in drinks with these added as well as other sports drinks. Take caution before consuming sports drinks and ensure they are right for you and you don’t consume too much. These electrolytes can also be found in many food sources. Bananas and sweet potatoes are rich in Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium, beans and lentils are sources of magnesium, Avocados are rich in potassium and milk is also a good source of calcium, potassium, sodium as well as proteins. 

After a long day in the studio, we often return home with many aches, pains and little niggles that we didn’t leave with that morning. Tight muscles and soreness can often be the cause of cramping due to reduced blood flow. Warming up before a class and cooling down after a session are important and we often forget to do this, which can have negative effects on our bodies. Furthermore, lack of movement for a period of time can also result in cramping as well as over use and exertion of muscle groups. In order to prevent cramps due to this, we can ensure that we warm up effectively and properly before a rehearsal and also cooling down sufficiently after a session as well as caring for our muscles regularly. Using foam rollers, spikey balls, massage balls, heat and ice to soothe and also massaging using our hands are all methods we can use to care for our tired muscles properly. By incorporating these self care methods into our day and training schedules, we can ensure we are caring for our bodies properly and therefore prevent both cramps and injury.

Injuries can also be a cause of cramping. Lack of blood flow to a specific area and region of the body can result in cramp as oxygenated blood is not being provided sufficiently to these areas. Nerve compression can also provide a feeling similar to a cramping sensation. Therefore, it is important that we care for injuries to prevent cramp and further injury. Sitting out, resting and observing rehearsals and taking time to massage, ice or heat can help promote blood flow around the body. Always listen to your body and what it requires, you do not want to make your injuries any worse and potentially have a negative impact on your future career. Professional help from healthcare and sports professionals such as physiotherapists and chiropractors can also help you to care for your injuries and keep your body in condition. 

So, in order to care for your body and prevent cramp as effectively as possible you can follow these tips. Keep Hydrated. Make sure you drink sufficient amounts of water and fluid to maintain the levels that your body requires to function properly. Sports drinks and drinks with added electrolytes can help you to keep these nutrient levels in the body at sufficient levels. Coconut water is also another good, natural source of electrolytes. Also, to maintain electrolyte and nutrient levels in the body, such as magnesium and sodium, taking baths using epsom salts can also be helpful as these nutrients can be absorbed through the skin. Additionally, make sure you look after your body by stretching out sore muscles, foam rolling and massaging after a long day of classes and rehearsals and also take care of your body to prevent injuries as these can also lead to causes of cramp.

I hope that this blog has given you some helpful insight and knowledge about the background, causes and methods of prevention of cramp. This information has been gathered through research I have conducted myself and also by speaking to teachers and mentors for advice. There are many sources of information such as blogs, articles by magazines and professionals and other forms of information all about this subject that can be found. Always remember to make sure your sources are reliable when researching different subjects too. 


‘Be yourself, accept yourself, love yourself, empower yourself’


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