Mar 23

The Real Squeeze on Muscle Cramping

Venus overcomes leg cramps to beat Hingis” was the headlines on MSNBC.com

After watching Venus Williams lying on the ground at Wimbledon screaming in agony from a severe muscle cramp in her leg, I decided that it would be a great topic to speak on here…

A friend and avid tennis enthusiast began asking me some questions about these cramps that were so obviously in effect with some top ranked sports stars.

His questions started with:

“What is a muscle cramp?”

The dictionary answer looks like this:

1. A sudden, involuntary, spasmodic muscular contraction causing severe pain,
often occurring in the leg or shoulder as the result of strain or chill.
2. A temporary partial paralysis of habitually or excessively used muscles.

The real question in my book is not so much what is a cramp, but WHY is a cramp? What is the cause underlying the symptoms, and what do the symptoms tell us about how to treat a cramp?

I have several answers to this type of question.

  • Cramping is caused by several affects that come together. I will mention some of these as well as treatment options to help prevent cramping from occurring…
    Tight muscles that are not warmed up properly or stretched effectively is one of the primary causes for the symptom of cramping. Also muscles that have been overworked and are in the state of strain or are already inflamed due to doing too much prior to heavy extended exercise can cramp. 
  • Pre-Event Sports Massage is one of the most effective methods for preventing cramping. This style of therapy increases circulation and activates acetylcholine in your body. (Biochemistry: The acetic acid ester of choline, C7H17NO3, released and hydrolyzed during nerve conduction and causing muscle action by transmitting nerve impulses across synapses. This is responsible for fast reaction time as well as keeping your muscles ready for POUNCING.) In other words, when you have plenty of this active in your muscle cells, your body is set for action – not for seizing. Pre-Event Sports Massage also aids in pushing built-up lactic acid out of muscle tissue, gradually warming the muscle fibers and creating an environment where cramping is less likely to occur. 
  • Dehydration and loss of electrolytes due to excess exercise with minimal replenishment of proper fluids leads to a build up of lactic acid, an increase of inflammation, and a decrease in proper circulation. Upon a slight cooling of the muscles, there is so much build up that a seizing occurs causing cramping. 
  • Lack of stretching and proper warm up can also contribute to the ease at which a cramp will come on. If you do a pre stretch routine along with some warm up exercises, you increase vasodilation as well as the space in between muscle fibers thereby increasing your muscles’ ability to flush lactic acid out of the muscles. Also, this pre event warm up brings the temperature of your muscles up gradually so that there is not such a great spike in temperature at “GAME TIME.” This allows for a decrease in inflammation and, upon cooling, less likely chance for cramping to occur. 
  • A cooling down period is very important as well to decrease your chances of developing cramps. This allows your muscles to gradually come down in temperature eliminating much of the seize that happens when your muscles go from a state of inflammation to a direct state of cool. Along with this period, it would be a good idea to elevate your legs and arms above your heart so that your circulation can work with gravity to flush the excess blood flow and acid out of your extremities. 
  • Always drink WATER especially some of the new electrolyte enhanced waters, while exercising and performing.

His next question was more of an immediate emergency question. He asked me:

“What do I do if I didn’t do any of those things and I am in the middle of a cramp RIGHT NOW?”

This is where my philosophy meets nature and more scientific principles.

At the heart of this question lies the “Go To” vs “Run From” philosophies. To answer this question, I come from a natural point of view.

The mechanism of a cramp is:

Overly acidic muscles contracting and spasming and seizing trying to do WHAT?


  • The act of contraction, spasm, and seizing has three effects. (a) The contraction acts to squeeze muscles and take away space from them; (b) the more you can take space away, the less can fit in; and (c) the less that can fit in, the more you eliminate what does not belong; therefore, nature is telling you that there is something in your muscles that it does not want there. 
  • Spasming is a mechanism that aids in vibrating the muscle cells to expand and contract very quickly creating a pump-like action, opening and closing, pushing acid out of the muscle when open and stopping that acid from coming back in when closing. This also aids in the elimination of our culprit. 
  • The seizing or paralyzing of the muscle is designed to lock your muscle in place so that the other two mechanisms work more efficiently. 

We tend not to like nature very much, and we try very hard to push out of a cramp and eliminate the immediacy of the pain we are in. What happens when we do this is we open up the floodgates for the fluid and, almost like a sponge, we suck more acid into the muscle making the next cramp much more likely and sometimes even more severe. When we try to go away from our pain, we draw it in more and more.

If we were to follow nature, what would be the most effective method?

Enjoy your pain!!! What I mean by this is that to aid nature in its course is the most effective way to eliminate cramps in the moment as well as help prevent them from occurring in the future.

“How do you aid nature?”

Well, this is where my personal explorations came in. If I were to follow nature and look at the mechanisms of a cramp, my only response would be to help the cramp out.

This is done by squeezing into the cramp. Lock the muscle even more and squeeze as hard as you can for as long as you can stand it. You must breathe throughout this process. What will happen is you will feel your muscles vibrate and twitch at a much more accelerated speed. You will feel the muscle fibers begin to burn and then begin to fatigue. You will feel the cramping getting almost hard to sustain. As you tighten and tighten and tighten your muscles into the cramp, you will notice a very strange thing. As much as the pain got you when you started squeezing, that pain will begin to decrease and the twitching that was once very fast will start to get slower and more pronounced and your muscle will fatigue from being locked and begin to give way.

This is the point when you squeeze even tighter. It is crucial that at the point of relaxation, your muscles are so over fatigued that they simply drop into a limp jello-like state. When you get to this point, you have pushed a great majority of that lactic acid out of the muscles; you have stretched and fatigued your muscles enough that they can relax; and such a great level, and you have created an environment in your body where cramps become much less likely next time.

The more you can stand the pain and the more you can follow nature’s mechanisms, the greater your performance will be with the least likely chance of causing injury.

If you have any questions feel free to email me.


Written By Ari Gronich

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  1. The 7 Essentials for Injury Prevention - Medical Fitness Network..

    […] Drinking Water you say? Yes, Drinking water helps to flush your muscles of lactic acid which can lead to cramping and tight muscles.  When you exercise while dehydrated and full of lactic acid, you have a greater chance of tearing muscles and ligaments. Learn more about The Real Squeeze on Muscle Cramping […]

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