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Muscle Cramps — More Than Just Dehydration

By Brandon Erickson, MD, American Orthopedic Society of Sports Medicine , 11/29/18, 12:00PM CST

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Preventive programs focused primarily on stretching, as well as on proper hydration, muscle health and adequate conditioning are crucial for athletes to decrease the risk of muscle cramps.

Muscle cramps are a debilitating and painful experience that occurs during or shortly after exercise. In the past, muscle cramps were thought to have been caused by dehydration and electrolyte loss, commonly seen in high intensity workouts and game competition. Athletes who developed cramps were treated with massage, as well as rehydration using water and/or fluids containing electrolytes.

Medical professionals taking care of athletes commonly recommended significant hydration in the days leading up to a game in the hopes of preventing muscle cramps. While this belief that muscle cramps are caused by dehydration has been pervasive among athletes, trainers, etc. recent evidence has shown that simple hydration cannot prevent, or for that matter cure, athletic cramps.