Muscle cramps are one of the most common cycling injuries. Muscle cramps are caused when the muscle contracts but then fails to relax afterwards; the duration of the cramp varies and usually lasts between 5 seconds and 15 minutes.
In sport, muscle cramps may be attributed to a number of different factors; these include a previous injury, overuse, strenuous or demanding physical activity and dehydration.
The most obvious symptom of a cramp is a sudden onset of pain in the affected muscle; usually muscle cramps will cause the muscle to swell and feel tender and tense; it may also feel knotted. Symptoms may persist after the pain has worn off.
Most muscle cramps can be treated very easily by raising or stretching the affected limb to encourage blood supply to the particular muscle and stretching the muscle out. For calf cramps, which are the most common type of cramps, this can be done by standing 2 feet away from a wall and leaning forward against it; the back should be straight and the feet firmly on the ground during this procedure. The calf muscle can also be stretched by sitting with the legs stretched out in front of you and raising the toes; the back should be straight during this stretch.
The most effective way to prevent a muscle cramp is to warm up thoroughly; this increases circulation and prepares the muscles for activity. Cooling down helps the body to recover after exercise and will prevent stiffness and pain in the joints and muscles. Keeping the body topped up with fluids will also help to prevent cramp.