Muscle Spasms After a Workout

Muscle spasms occur when your muscles contract involuntarily. This occurrence can be both painful and alarming, especially when you have just finished an exercise routine and may be concerned that you have experienced a muscle injury. While not typically cause for concern, muscle spasms can indicate the need for improved muscle conditioning or nutrition before and during an exercise session.

A woman has a sore back. (Image: Manuel Faba Ortega/iStock/Getty Images)

Causes

Muscle spasms that occur after exercise tend to have two chief causes. The first is muscle fatigue. If you are resuming an exercise program or sport after a break, your muscles may not be prepared to work at the level they were previously capable of sustaining, which can result in overload and spasms. The second cause is dehydration from lost sweat during your exercise session. Along with water, your sweat contains sodium, a mineral needed to keep your muscles functioning properly. If you lose too much water and salts through sweat during your exercise session, you may experience pain.

Prevention

If you have experienced muscle cramps in the past, take preventive measures before future exercise sessions. These can include drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day and increasing your fluid intake before, during and after your workout. If the temperature is very hot or you know you will be exercising intensely, try drinking an electrolyte-containing beverage, which has salts that can help to replenish lost sodium. A good five- to 10-minute stretching session following your warm-up can help to loosen your muscles. You also should stretch after your exercise routine.

Treatment

If you do experience post-workout muscle spasms, take a few extra moments to stretch the muscle. This can help relieve tension and tightness that can result from cramping. If you are currently experiencing a spasm, a heating pad also may soothe the cramping muscle. However, if you are dealing with soreness after a spasm, ice is a better anti-inflammatory choice. Continue to drink water or electrolyte-replacing beverages after your workout to ease dehydration. Taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, also can help reduce pain and inflammation after the muscle cramp.

Warning

If you experience muscle cramping that does not go away after several hours or keeps recurring, seek medical treatment. Extremely painful muscle cramps also may warrant medical attention. Frequent muscle cramping can indicate a mineral imbalance, including calcium, potassium or magnesium deficiencies. Muscle spasms also can be the result of impaired nerve or brain function.

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