Why do I get muscle cramps when bicycling and how do I treat them?

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Answered by: Jonathan, An Expert in the Sports Medicine - General Category
Bicycling is an aerobic activity holding several advantages over other forms of exercise. Riding a bicycle is a popular way to exercise for people with knee or joint problems in their lower body. The fluid pedaling motion is easier on your joints in the ankles, knees and hips, preventing wear and tear on your connective tissues.



Bicycling endurance is also much easier to maintain than other forms of aerobic activity, such as running, allowing for longer workout sessions. But some injuries are at an increased risk when bicycling, and muscle cramps can be one of them. If you suffer from muscle cramps when bicycling, there are steps you can take to treat the injury and prevent it from becoming a chronic problem.

Possible Cause



Bicycling, particularly over long distances, introduces many factors believed to cause or contribute to muscle cramps. Dehydration is a likely influence, and bicyclists riding for several hours at a time can be susceptible to this even when you are drinking water throughout your ride. According to MayoClinic.com, it is possible that holding muscles in a single position for long periods of time can lead to muscle cramps, a condition common while riding a bicycle and maintaining proper posture.

Exhausted muscles and muscle strains, both of which become more likely as a workout lengthens and muscles fatigue, can also muscle cramps. In some cases, it is possible that a mineral depletion in the body may develop while bicycling as your body uses and disposes of stored energy resources and nutrients.

Treatment

When a cramp occurs, there is nothing you can do to cure it. However, most cramps can go away after a few minutes. To help ease the cramp and prevent further injury, stop riding your bicycle and rest the muscle. Some light stretching may be helpful, and you should slowly drink water and/or a sports drink to provide water and other nutrients to your bloodstream. A cold compress can help relax the muscle tension caused by cramping.

Prevention

Stretch your muscles before and after riding to loosen them up and ease the transition to and from exercise. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout your day leading up to a bike ride, and hydrate yourself consistently through the workout. Be aware of the effects of high temperatures when riding, which can accelerate dehydration, and make adjustments to your workout accordingly. Increase your workload gradually over the course of weeks when bicycling, giving your body time to build endurance and strength. This reduces the risk of muscle fatigue and strains, thus lowering the chance of suffering muscle cramps when bicycling.

Considerations

According to UltraCycling.com, women who are menstruating or pregnant face a much higher risk than others of developing muscle cramps when exercising. Stop riding if you experience any twitching in your muscles while riding. This could be a precursor to muscle cramps, and stopping at this warning sign gives you a better chance of avoiding a muscle cramp by resting your muscle or muscles and applying preventative treatment.

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