I have a penchant for enjoying things that are often ubiquitous, yet poorly understood. The human body is ripe with these topics. Among my favorites are delayed onset muscle soreness, muscle fatigue, and muscle cramps.
Muscle cramps are often extremely painful and debilitating. I remember struggling with quadriceps cramps more than one time while cycling. The worst time was on the return leg of a 80 mile trek through the mountains (relative, I know, but surprisingly steep) of northwest NJ on a hot summer day. The cramps began at mile 42. I remember completing the rest of the ride in fear because a feature of muscle cramps poorly appreciated among non-cyclists is that when you do cramp, your foot is mechanically secured to the pedal. Avoiding a crash and somehow gaining enough control of your tetanic leg to unclip from your pedals is a true miracle!
I enjoyed this recent article in the New York Times, which provides a nice overview of some competing theories behind the daunting muscle cramp. Featured in the article is one of my colleagues at the Medical College of Georgia, Dr. Michael F. Bergeron, who runs the environmental physiology lab and calls the physical therapy department his home. He discusses a specific type of cramp related to excessive sweating.
Dr. Bergeron, incidentally, had an enviable week in the media, also making an appearance in a Times Magazine article, " Little Athletes Big Injuries."
The next time you have a muscle cramp, perhaps thoughts of the scientific wonder that they are will help ease your suffering.
Having had leg and foot cramps most of my life, sometimes due to potassium depletion, I have found the inner-thigh cramp the absolute most excruciating pain ever. Standing on the affected leg does not help, and if you are not careful you will end up on the floor. I usually try to limp to the kitchen, all bent over since I can't stand up straight, and drink 8 ounces of tonic water. This is approved by my doctor since I don't have the attacks very often. I was wondering if anybody knows the origin; the articles all say it is "poorly understood," and my personal doctor says that too. He named a few triggers, most of which I have experienced, but could recommend only tonic water. I once had tiny little quinine pills prescribed for the back-of-the-calf cramps, but tonic water has some buffers in it to help with side effects. Any info would be appreciated!