Friday, June 18, 2010

Reducing the Duration of Muscle Cramps

The cause of muscle cramps during extreme exercise is somewhat of a mystery. The usual explanation is that dehydration-induced electrolyte imbalance leads to inappropriate firing of the motor neurons to the muscle. The usual treatment is physical stretching until the cramping stops, followed by rehydration with salts and water to restore fluid and electrolyte balance.

Is there anything that can shorten the duration of a cramp? Apparently there is – pickle juice! A recent study shows that the duration of cramps deliberately induced in a muscle in the big toe is reduced 37% by drinking about 2 ½ tablespoons of pickle juice as soon as the cramp starts. (Cramps were induced in a muscle in the big toe, because deliberately inducing muscle cramps in a larger muscle was thought to be too painful.)

Interestingly, the pickle juice worked within 1 ½ minutes – too fast to be due to replenishment of body fluids or salts. Researchers speculate that the acetic acid in pickle juice triggers a neural reflex originating in the esophagus or stomach, which somehow inhibits the excessive firing rate of motor neurons to the cramping muscle.

Whether pickle juice will reduce the duration of cramps in major muscle groups in athletes remains to be seen.

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