Running Cramps - Treatment and Avoidance

Cramp is an over-contraction or tightening of a muscles.

Causes of Cramp

Cramp is an over-contraction or tightening of a muscles. It is a complicated issue. There isn't one single cause of exercise induced cramp, instead it can be brought on for a number of reasons which include

  1. Cold
  2. Dehydration
  3. Low levels of nutrients
  4. Over Exertion

A stitch, which is a common complaint when out running is also a type of cramp, but this is slightly more straight forward as a running stitch is generally caused by running too soon after having eaten a significant amount of food.


There are a few things that may help to relieve the symptoms of cramp.

  • Stretching - Try some light static stretching of the area concerned. If you get any pain as you do this then stop.
  • Heat / Ice - It sounds contradictory to suggest both, but some people have found that one or other of these do help to relives the tightness in the area.
  • Massage - Again, this doesn't work for everyone, but some very gentle massage can help to reduce the symptoms of cramp.
  • Prevention - Generally, an attack of cramp will be the end of your running for the day. Therefore, treatment isn't really the main thing that is going to help with this in the long term. More important is the use of preventative measures which include.
  • Nutrition - Ensure that you have enough nutrients in your system, specifically vitamin D and calcium, potassium and magnesium - all of which have been suggested as good ways of reducing the risk of cramp.
  • Hydration - Similarly to the above you must make sure you have enough water on board. Ironically a number of athletes over the years have taken on too much water and thus reduced the concentration of minerals in their system and in that way induced cramps. This is much less common, however, that people not having drunk enough.
  • Warm Up and Cool Down Well - Ensure that you are warm enough to train hard at the start of sessions. A good jog and some dynamic stretches are good for this. After sessions, static stretches are more useful as they return muscles to their pre-exercise length and reduce the risk of starting subsequent sessions with overly tight muscles.