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Don't Let A Cramp Cut Your Run Short!
By Julie Donnelly, LMT, Thu Dec 8th

You're in the middle of your long run for the week, and you'redoing just great! You feel strong, your time is right on target,you're moving breathing easily and you feel confident. Suddenly,your calf muscle cramps, so suddenly that you almost fall inyour tracks. Limping to the side of the road, you collapse ontothe grass, your leg is throbbing so severely that you can't eventhink...you try to stretch it out...it gets worse! What do youdo now?

This is a runners nightmare, and one that any serious runner haseither experienced personally, or has watched another runnersuffering.

Before we get into a self treatment for this painful situation,let's take a look at some basics. We are assuming that you knowabout keeping yourself hydrated, (and you do it, right?), andreplacing lost electrolytes. You have read about carbohydrates &protein, and you eat properly. But what about stretching andworking out muscle spasms as they develop?


I've watched serious athletes finish up a long run, stretch for1-2 minutes, and leave. This is a big mistake! You need to takethe time to stretch all of the muscles of your legs, and hips,after you finish your training run. It takes one full minute fora muscle to have a permanent stretch. That's 60 seconds permuscle, not for the entire stretching process. Do your stretchslowly, allowing the muscle to lengthen gradually, and by allmeans, don't bounce.

There are specific self treatments you can do for all the themuscles of your legs, however this article will address the calfmuscles. In your calf you have two muscles, the gastrocneimus("gastroc" for short) and the soleus. Most runners faithfullystretch the gastroc by either keeping their foot flat and thenbending their body forward and keeping their leg straight, or bystanding on the curb and dropping their heels toward the street,while keeping their legs straight. I always advise against thissecond method of stretching because it is too severe, untilafter the muscle has lengthened, for the muscle to tolerate thismuch of a stretch. Stretching should be done gradually,increasing the stretch every 15 seconds until you are stretchingas far as you can anatomically bend your ankle, then hold itstatic for 60 full seconds.

The stretch that most athletes miss is the one for the soleus.Both the gastroc and the soleus insert into the Achilles Tendon,and either one can cause the tendon to tear if it is severelycontracted. To add the soleus stretch is very easy. Assume thesame flat foot position as you have for the gastroc, and moveforward (bending the ankle), but now move your body back so youare also bending your knee. You will feel a totally differentstretch. Do the same thing, increase the stretch every 15seconds until your knee and ankle are bent as far as they cananatomically go, and again hold it for 60 seconds.

By the way, I see people leaning up against cars, fences, andtrees. It isn't necessary to bend from the hips up, that isn'tdoing anything for your legs. Keep your body upright, put oneleg out front with the knee bent, and the other leg back, withthe knee straight. It's the exact same leg position as when youare leaning against something, you just move your body straightup. It's actually a lot easier to do, and more convenientbecause you don't need to find

a tree!

It has been my experience, while working with hundreds ofathletes, that it is the soleus that will cause you the greatestamount of trouble. This may happen because everyone stretchesthe gastroc, and not the soleus. Stretching properly can helpyou to prevent the painful experience of a cramp while you arerunning...but here you are, on the side of the road, ready toscream out in pain. What to do now!

To begin with, DO NOT try to stretch it out until you help themuscle complete it's severe contraction. This may seem like theexact opposite thing to do, but let's talk about the logic ofthe body.

When your muscle goes into a severe crapm, sometimes called a"charlie horse", the muscle is trying to contract violently.Muscles will never stop a contraction in the middle, it has an"all or nothing" system. A muscle fiber contracts fully, or notat all. If you try to stretch it out, while the muscle is tryingto contract, you will tear fibers. You need to assist the musclein its contraction BEFORE you can stretch it without injury.

When the muscle goes into this cramp, tightly grab your calfwith your hands: one hand at the top of the calf, just below theknee; and the other hand at the bottom of the muscle, at the topof the achilles tendon just above the ankle. Now, help themuscle complete it's contraction by pushing your hands together.This will be extremely painful, but only for a few seconds.Next, just release your hands, and then replace them in the samepositions. Now, again push your hands together, this time itwon't hurt nearly as much. You are now assisting any last fibersto finish their contraction. Take a few breathes, get back youroxygen that was lost while you were breathing heavily during thepain.

Now you can safely stretch the muscle. Begin by rubbing themuscle with arnica gel and then squeezing your calf, like youwere squeezing bread dough. I always recommend to my athletesthat they have a tube of arnica gel in their pouches. Arnica gelcan be bought in any good health food store, and is ahomeopathic remedy for bruised muscles. It is amazing howquickly arnica gel will help the muscle heal.

After you have put on the arnica gel, and quickly squeezed themuscle (which brings blood into the area and also helps to healthe muscle), go into the gastroc and soleus stretches. I've hadrunners tell me that since they have begun using arnica gelduring, and after, the race that they have a much faster healingprocess than ever before.

A muscle cramp, which is a severe spasm, can certainly stop youin your tracks, and not treating it properly at the time willmean you will limp for the remainder of the race, not onlyhaving a negative impact on your time, but on your muscleshealth. The few minutes you will lose in your training time, orin the race, to do these treatments will be rewarded by theminimal damage that has been done to the muscle fibers.

About the author:Julie Donnelly, BS, LMT, is the Therapeutic Director of JulstroMuscular Therapy Center and The Carpal Tunnel Treatment Center,in New City, NY. She has worked with athletes for over 14 years,and specializes in chronic joint pain. Her website:www.aboutcts.com has interesting information about how musclescause joint pain. She may be contact at: julie@aboutcts.com


 

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