THE 9 BEST WAYS TO GET RID OF MUSCLE CRAMPS

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You’ve probably been stopped in your tracks by a spasm the size of a golf ball in your calf, a charley horse, or a tremor that constricts your hamstrings. Like side stitches, muscle cramps are a reality for many runners, lifters, cyclists, and swimmers alike.

The main difference between side stitches and cramps is that the latter occurs in smooth involuntary muscle (more specifically, your diaphragm) while more common muscle cramps occur in large skeletal muscle that’s under your voluntary control (i.e. your leg muscles). The cramps are sudden, painful, and can really throw off a workout (or your sleep). Of course, you know this if you’re prone to muscle cramping. So, why do they happen in the first place?

“Cramps are not well understood, but there is research to show that cramps occur from changes in motor neuron excitability or random discharges of motor nerves that cause sudden—sometimes very painful—involuntary contraction of a muscle,” says Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N, endurance athlete and owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition.

“Athletes who experience cramps may experience them during exercise (exercise-induced cramping) due to muscular fatigue or shortened muscle contraction (a.k.a. tight muscles and limited range of motion),” Sumbal says.

For expert-backed tips on preventing muscle cramps, alleviating pain when they strike, and keeping them from happening again, read on.

1. Do a proper warmup

Always warm up with a combination of dynamic and static stretching(Read: Warmup Tips: How to Use Static and Dynamic Stretching to Become a Better Athlete). When you incorporate both types of stretching into a full warmup routine with aerobic components and drills, you optimize your exercise performance and reduce your chances of straining muscles. Plus, by priming your major muscle groups—flooding the areas with blood—you prepare them for higher intensity movements. In short, you’re not shocking your system and causing muscles to lock or tighten due to stress.

2. Keep carbs handy—and hydrate!

Sumbal says to stay well hydrated during the day before you work out, during the workout (if you’re logging a good distance—and even more so if it’s hot), and after. Dehydration can play a role in muscle cramps because when you lose fluids and electrolytes like like sodium and potassium, you disrupt the balance of fluids in your body. In turn, this increases the excitability of your nerves and prompts your muscles to spasm. You should also consider drinking an electrolyte-carb beverage for workouts over 75 minutes, she says.

“You need to use sport nutrition (carbohydrate-based products) during long workouts when fatigue is most likely to occur,” Sumbal says. This isn’t necessary for a 5 or 10K, but if you’re logging 10+ miles, consider storing these foods and performance products to boost your energy and power you through the finish line. This is especially important for triathletes or people competing in endurance events like IRONMAN or Ragnar races who want to avoid the muscle cramping, stomach pain, and exhaustion symptomatic of bonking.

“We not only lose fluids when we sweat—which can be replaced with beverages—but the levels of several electrolytes that are essential to fluid balance and neuromuscular functioning also decrease—especially sodium,” says Beatriz Lara, a lead researcher from the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at Camilo José Cela University. Her research suggests endurance athletes like marathoners can lose liters of fluids during a race, and if those fluids aren’t replenished, the excessive electrolyte loss can cause a condition called hyponatraemia. When your sodium concentration is less than 135 mmol/L in the blood it can lead to decreased or loss of consciousness—and worse. (That could make those muscle cramps seem like a walk in the park, huh?)

3. Improve your range of motion

“Work on mobility to improve your range of motion—especially if you’re commuting a lot or working a desk job,” Sumbal says. Mobility drills really help open up tightness so you can settle into movements that might otherwise strain your muscles—causing them to spasm and cramp.

If you’re looking for a routine that will build muscle, improve mobility, and bulletproof your joints, try The Perfect Workout. If you want fitness experts’ secrets on improving total body mobility, read The Fit 5: Better Body Mobility.

4. Relax your body

It’s difficult during high-intensity movements like sprinting, but try to relax your body when you’re training. Mid-run try to think about relaxing your face, unclenching your jaw, and keeping your fingers from forming a fist. It may seem nit-picky, but you’re wasting energy and putting unnecessary force on small and large muscles throughout your body. “Many newbie swimmers suffer from hamstring and calf cramps from being too tense in the water,” Sumbal adds. “Yoga may help with this,” she says, since the practice teaches you to zero in on tasks that challenge your strength and flexibility all while keeping that mind-body connection. .

5. Take it slow

“Progress slowly with your training,” Sumbal suggests. If you’re training for a marathon, you can’t jump from logging three miles a day to 12. Your muscles won’t have the time to cope, so you can expect straining and cramps. “Don’t take any shortcuts and progress your training gradually so you adapt overtime.”

6. Foam roll before and after workouts

“Most athletes will benefit from light foam rolling and mobility work before and afterworkouts,” Sumbal says. Loosen up your hip flexors, which are notoriously tight, and break up any knots in your hamstrings, quads, and calves. You’ll be markedly more comfortable and relaxed by taking the time to roll out tightness and soreness beforehand, and even more benefits if you do it after as well.
7. Massage the muscle

“If a cramp occurs during a workout, stop immediately and try to relax,” Sumbal recommends. Never try to push through the cramp because you’ll only aggravate it more. “You can lightly massage the muscles to relax the contraction,” she adds. Light stretching will help, too. Just don’t over-do it since that can cause the onset of new cramps.

8. Strengthen your small and large muscles

“Strength training is important; you can strengthen the muscles so they do not fatigue as quickly,” Sumbal says. “Don’t just target the major muscle groups, though,” she adds. Foot strength is super important and causes a whole slew of problems—from the ground up. Work on picking up marbles with your toes or grabbing a towel and picking it up and dropping it down from side to side.

9. Check out breaking science

Sumbal says to check out the latest on a sports beverage that targets the nervous system called It’s the Nerve. It’s not yet released but is in development by Rod MacKinnon M.D., Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist and endurance athlete. MacKinnon set out to create a solution to muscle cramps after suffering a bout while kayaking. According to his site, “When under stressful conditions—such as fatigue, heat, severe electrolyte loss, reduced blood flow—nerve function can deteriorate and cause an excessive firing of motor neurons, which ultimately causes muscles to cramp. Our product’s blend helps stabilize the activity of the motor neurons and thereby prevents muscle cramps.”  (Though we’re not sure yet what the “blend” is, all of the active ingredients are included on the FDA’s list of ingredients that are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).)

Article Source: http://www.mensfitness.com/training/pro-tips/9-best-ways-get-rid-muscle-cramps?

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The Best Stretches for Your Back After Sitting a Long Time

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Nearly 80% of people in the U.S. complain of back pain. Most cases are mild and unrelated to injuries such as herniated disks or arthritis, but they can still turn a desk job or road trip into an uncomfortable experience. One expert, Tony Delitto, a professor of physical therapy and dean of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, explains why touching your toes isn’t a good idea and what is the best way to get out of bed in the morning.

Disk Jockeying

Americans sit on average for 6 hours to 13 hours a day, depending on which study you read, says Dr. Delitto. Being sedentary for long periods has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease and other life-shortening illnesses. But one of the biggest problems arising from prolonged sitting is pressure between the disks of the spine, he says.

“When you’re standing, the small of your back has a natural curve,” says Dr. Delitto. “But when you’re sitting, the lower back hunches the other way. That will lead to a low-grade pain.”

Stretch to Success

There are ways to improve the quality of sitting time, including using a lumbar support or towel roll in your car seat and adjusting your workstation so the mouse and computer force you to sit with better posture. Still, standing up and stretching is by far the best way to reduce low-back pain, Dr. Delitto says. Every hour or two, he says, everyone should stand up and put their hands on their hips, bend backward and repeat that five times, holding the bending position for three seconds each time.

“It gets your spine in the most extended posture instead of being flexed,” he says. “We find it helps relieve stiffness, but it also helps alleviate some of that intradiscal pressure.” He cautions that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, since elderly people who suffer from stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal column) shouldn’t bend backward at all. “If you have stenosis, you’d feel pain, numbness or tingling below the knee right away.”

Another helpful move is to raise the hands above the head, clasping one hand to the opposite wrist and stretching up, he says. “That realigns the spine beautifully.”

Cracking one’s back has never been shown to relieve or increase back pain, says Dr. Delitto. “I don’t have an ounce of good evidence to prove my theory, but I don’t think that this sort of self-adjustment is good for people to do,” he says. And, he says, the more people crack their backs, the more they seem to need to do it.

Another movement whose benefit isn’t proven involves lying on your back, pulling up the knees and twisting side to side. “There is no literature that I know of that says that twisting is any more helpful than simply bending backward while standing,” Dr. Delitto says.

He also doesn’t recommend bending forward and touching your toes. “Some people have really tight hamstrings, and they may compensate by bending at the back, which can overstretch it.”

For long drives, Dr. Delitto tells people to park as far from the rest area as possible so they’re forced to walk a little bit and get the back into proper posture. He also suggests pulling the car over to do the backbend stretch every hour.

At work, Dr. Delitto says he uses a bathroom two floors up so he has to walk farther. “I also wear one of those activity monitors that buzzes every 45 minutes and tells me to move,” he admits, since even a back specialist can get into bad sitting habits.

Good Morning

Dr. Delitto gives nearly every patient a morning ritual called the hand-heel rocking stretch. Before climbing out of bed, people should get onto all fours and rock back and forth four or five times to get into the child’s pose, a yoga position in which the knees are tucked on either side of the chest while the shins rest on the ground, he says. “I’m not sure if this ritual is preventative, but it does help to release morning stiffness and low-grade pain considerably.”

Dr. Delitto believes nearly everyone should take yoga or Pilates, but he recognizes this may be impractical at times. “There just aren’t a lot of people that will go into warrior pose at work,” he says. Instead, people should just stand up and stretch backward, which should bring immediate relief. “It’s pretty simple to do, and it will improve your posture and the feeling in your back for the remaining 59 minutes of the hour,” he says.

Article Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-best-stretches-for-your-back-after-sitting-a-long-time-1463411850

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What Is a Healthy Posture and How to Maintain It

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Modern lifestyle factors, such as texting, reaching for your keyboard or wearing high heels, can create postural stressors that often cause muscle imbalances and injury. Having good posture is essential for good health; however, understanding what good posture is and maintaining it are hard.

“When some people try to work on their posture, they tend to overdo it,” says Alynn Kakuk, physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. “They get into a super-extended position with their shoulders way back — enough that it creates too much of an arch on their back. So, they just start shifting their weight too far back.”

Bad posture habits can cause imbalanced body alignment, strain on ligaments and muscles, chronic pain, injuries, impingement, low back pain, neck pain, hip pain, joint stiffness and muscle tightness, according to Kakuk.

Simple exercises, stretches and being conscious of your posture can eliminate these ramifications.

Practice a healthy posture

Stand up against a wall, and make sure your upper back, shoulders and bottom touch the wall. Your feet don’t have to be against the wall — just a couple of inches away from it. You should have a slight space in your lower back and be able to fit your hands in that space. But, make sure it’s not a big gap. Then, step away from the wall, and try to see if you can maintain that position. Keep in mind, strengthening your muscles will make it easier for you to maintain that posture overtime. Be careful of overdoing it or hyper-extending your back.

Using technology with a healthy posture

In a world filled with modern technology, reaching for your cellphone and keyboard are common movements. These movements can place stress on your upper back and neck, resulting in rounded shoulders and forward head. This can cause chronic upper back, shoulder, neck pain and headaches. Also, people can text so much that they develop pain and injury in their thumbs from that overuse. Here are some tips on how to maintain the correct posture while using technology.

Try to have your cellphone at eye level, so you’re not bending forward.

Do exercises that strengthen your upper back and shoulder, such as chest exercises to strengthen your pectoral muscles and diaphragmatic breathing techniques to release tension.

Stay aware of your posture throughout the day.

Ergonomics at the office

Those who sit at a desk all day should be conscious of posture and the importance of getting up at least once an hour to move. “Standing up and focusing on good posture for a few minutes can relieve muscle strain and improve breathing and circulation, which also helps improve attention and engagement,” says Deborah J. Rhodes, M.D., physician and cancer researcher at Mayo Clinic. Nonetheless, having good office ergonomic habits can keep your muscles and ligaments healthy. Here are some tips on ergonomics at the office.

Ensure your keyboard is at elbow height, so your hands can rest on the desk.

Place your computer at eye level. Place laptops on platforms for them to be at eye level.

Set your chair at a height that your feet touch the ground.

Take a walk or stretch break every hour.

Walking in high heels with the correct posture

Walking in heels is essentially walking on your toes, which results in a chain reaction on the rest of your body. It causes the knees to hyperextend, the pelvis to tip forward, the lower back to tighten, and the abdominals to become weak. Here are some tips on how to maintain the correct posture while using high heels.

When wearing heels, ensure you draw in your abdominal muscles to prevent that extra curve in your low back.

Try to limit the use of your heels.

Pick a heel that is smaller with a wider surface area that will help distribute your foot and weight better.

Maintaining good posture can help you walk, sit, stand and lie in positions that cause the least pressure on your muscles and ligaments during movement and weight-bearing actions.

It also gives confidence.

“People who have better posture tend to appear more confident and knowledgeable to others. It makes them feel confident internally as well,” says Kakuk.

– Article Source: http://www.stonehearthnewsletters.com/what-is-a-healthy-posture-and-how-to-maintain-it/sports-medicine/#sthash.BDnde9hp.dpuf

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