London, England
Thursday 18th August 2011
One of the most commonly experienced musculoskeletal problems is exercise-induced muscle cramps.  In fact it is estimated that over 95% of people will experience at least one bout of cramp in their lifetime.  That suggests a massive population no matter how you interpret the data & yet the research into the causes or prevention is sparse, with no conclusive consensus as to how the onset can be categorically avoided.

Disturbances in the physiology of the musculoskeletal system, or at various levels of the peripheral & central nervous systems have all been considered (Bentley, 1996) & it may be this multi-factorial influence that has given rise to the contradictory findings in some areas of the research as different investigators have induced cramps using different methods.

The earlier investigations centred around a electrolyte depletion brought about by sweat loss, however, more recently the research seems to favour a more fatigue-induced central & peripheral nervous system model for exercise-induced cramping.  The distinction is now being made between exercise-induced cramps & "exertional heat cramps", which is the term being adopted in relation to the sweat-induced symptoms potentially caused by "whole-body exchangeable sodium deficit, contracted interstitial fluid compartment & hypersensitive neuromuscular junctions" (Bergeron, 2008).

Studies by Jung et al (2005), Sulzer et al (2005) & Schwellnus et al (2004) each concluded that electrolyte loss & dehydration were not the sole causes of exercise associated muscle cramps.  Meanwhile, Khan & Burne (2007) & Gabriel et al (2006) directed their research to the neural systems involved in prompting cramp & how these pathways could be influenced by exercise to promote fatigue resistance.

However, the whole point of writing this blog article today was a paper that I read last night by Miller et al (2010), which investigated the inhibition of muscle cramps by drinking pickle juice.  The study used a population of hypohydrated, non-athletic college students & induced cramp following exercise before asking them to drink either a control of deionised water or pickle juice.  The investigators found that the pickle juice inhibited the cramps & hypothesised that, as the effects were so fast acting, they couldn't be explained by restoration body fluids or electrolytes but instead by a neurally mediated reflex originating in the oropharyngeal region, which acted to inhibit the firing of the motor neurons in the cramping muscle. 

Have a read & see what you think!!!


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