The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 30, 2000

Let nothing cramp your style
By Anup Deb Nath

MINOR problems affect many during exercise routines; these can vary from Achilles' Tendons to muscle cramps, knee problems or a stitch in the side. Though most of these are in no way dangerous, they certainly can stop you in your tracks if they catch you in the middle of your exercise routine.

Knees are one of the most problem-prone areasOften, knowing the cause of these problems helps in their elimination especially if the reason is a simple one, which can be rectified with a simple home cure. Also if you do know what to do and whether to stop exercising or not can also help you prevent the problem from becoming chronic.

Muscle cramps have caught many people unawares during their exercise routines. Defined as a sustained involuntary muscle contraction, cramps can be caused by a variety of reasons from overexertion, lack of fluid, or even a low glucose level. Cramps have got everyone from athletes to people who are not used to exercising and can cause severe pain for the few seconds that they last.

Health experts agree that prevention is the best way out of muscle cramps. Try not to over exercise particularly if you are not in the habit of exercising regularly. Break your self into the routine gradually over a period of time letting your body get accustomed to it. Drink enough fluid to keep hydrated and try to balance out the water lost during exercise as well. You need to drink more fluid in the summer as well as in winter if you heat up your rooms with heaters as these also lead to water loss.

  Keeping an area prone to cramps warm in the cold weather is also said to help the problem. Apart from this a balanced diet is also said to help you keep cramps at bay.

While exercising if you do get a muscle cramp, stop your exercise and try to gently stretch the area. If it seems to be severe then you can apply ice and that not only helps the cramp but ensures that there s no inflammation of the area as well (If the weather is cold then it is better to apply a hot compress rather than ice.). It is best though to check with your doctor if the muscle cramps reoccur frequently.

A stitch in the side is perhaps one of the most common problems faced by people. Even little children who are running often complain of a pain in the side. A side stitch is a stabbing pain, which normally affects either of the sides of the stomach.

What causes the pain in the side is nothing to worry about but simply a lack of oxygen, or due to a muscle spasm or even trapped gas pockets which are created when one exercises right after eating.

Bryant Stamford, PhD, exercise adviser for the Physician in Sports and Medicine Journal says, "inadequate oxygen delivery to the breathing muscles (the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles between the ribs) may be the culprit." He recommends deep breathing while exhaling through pursed lips. If this doesn’t help bring down the exercise intensity level to allow easier breathing till the problem goes away and if necessary stop for a couple of seconds till it is better.

The knees are perhaps one of the most problem prone areas after the lower back. Funnily enough more women than men seem to suffer knee problems and the doctors do seem to have an answer for it. If you have a pain in your knees it is best to get a doctor to look at it first. If he feels you need to take a rest and then restart your exercise do so, but keep a few pints in mind before restarting.

Knees that make a popping sound are one problem some face while exercising. If you hear the popping sound as you twist your knee or use that area then it is a problem but often if the popping sound is heard and there is no pain accompanying it then it could be the wearing away of the cartilage that cushions the knee.

It is best to strengthen the leg muscles by doing more stretching to build up a balance between your quads and hamstring muscles. Using the machines in the gym to do leg extensions and leg curls is another way to strengthen the area. Adequate stretching must also be done as tight quadriceps, calf muscles and hamstring muscles often trigger knee problems.

The reason women seem to be more prone to knee injuries compared to men may be as women have wider pelvises than men and therefore their knees angle further inward. This increased inward angle experts feel can cause the kneecaps to slide out of their normal positions.

Another reason is than many women have weaker thigh muscles than men and with overuse these weak muscles are unable to prevent the shocks from reaching the knees and preventing the kneecaps from shifting position.

Home This feature was published on April 23, 2000