Turbo trainer cramps

Turbo trainer cramps

When winter drives me indoors, I keep myself fit by pedalling away on my home-trainer. I do an almost daily session consisting of a 45 minute period of increasing then decreasing difficulty, followed by 5 minutes rest and then a similar 30 minute period with a less demanding peak.

My 77-year-old legs are then quite ready in the spring to bowl me along the road again – but it’s bought at the price of frequent, hideous thigh-cramps at night during the winter. How can I stop them occurring, and how can I relieve them when they happen?

Barrie Cross

Leg cramps, due to sudden involuntary muscle contraction, are common. In most cases, the cause is not known although occasionally they may be due to one of several underlying conditions, including abnormal electrolyte levels in the blood (you would usually have other symptoms as well) or a side-effect of medication (e.g. diuretics, Salbutamol and statins).

Stretching or massaging the affected muscle usually provides relief. For calf cramps, straighten the leg and pull up the toes. For cramps in the thigh, try hamstring or quadriceps stretching exercises depending on whether your cramps are at the back or the front of the thigh. Look online for exercises for the specific muscle group affected. Do them daily to try to prevent the cramps. In bed, stop your toes from pointing downwards by raising your feet up using a pillow (if lying on your back), or hanging the feet over the end of the bed (if on your front).

Most commonly used treatments for cramp lack scientific evidence to back them up. Quinine tablets are usually only advised for frequent severe night cramps disrupting sleep. Some people take extra salt or eat bananas on the basis that cramps are due to an electrolyte imbalance, but it is not clear that this makes any difference in most cases. Dehydration may contribute, so ensure you are well hydrated throughout a ride.

In many instances of exercise-induced cramp, overexertion and lack of muscle fitness is a factor. However, from the information you provide, this sounds unlikely to be your main problem, so check the set-up on both your home trainer and bike: they should match one another if possible. Make sure your saddle height and foot positioning on the pedal are correct. In cases of severe, recurrent or persistent cramp despite the above measures, see your GP.

Dr Matt Brooks

 

This was first published in the December 2012 / January 2013 edition of CTC's Cycle magazine.

Q&A     Health
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