Why are the ramps produced?

Albert Giménez

2 November, 1999

The cramps are muscular contractions that we all suffer, more or less regularly. They are annoying and often we do not know the causes or how to stop the evil they produce. Although there is not a single reason nor a single remedy to avoid them, we can find general guidelines that define their appearance and some tips for preventing and treating them.

Ramps are abrupt, intense and painful contractions of involuntarily produced muscle and with a passing effect. The reason for severe illness is due to the fact that, with the contraction, there is an effect of ischemia or blood supply deficit.

We often notice that the ramp will occur and we have time to stretch the contracted muscles to prevent it, but, on other occasions, as is usually the case with nightly ramps, they appear without controlling them by interrupting the sleep.

Causes of ramps

It is difficult to know exactly the cause that causes the ramps, although, among the possible factors, we highlight the following:

• Deficiency of some minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium) if the ramp appears in intense heat situations or when we do prolonged exercise with heavy sweating.

• Muscular fatigue caused or favored by the deficit or excessive training, dehydration and prolonged or intense efforts.

• Lack of training.

• Insufficient heating, which makes the conditions in which the exercise is developed are not optimal: more intramuscular viscosity, less temperature, less blood supply ...

• Defective technical management, which reduces the effectiveness of muscular contraction and requires more muscular effort than would be necessary if the correct technical gesture was applied.

• Muscle imbalances when we work excessively in a certain area - agonist group - and we leave practically inactive another muscle group - antagonist group.

• Exercise of anaerobic or high intensity characteristics, which causes the depletion of some energy substances and, consequently, the increase in lactic acid and other modifications that favor the appearance of ramps.

Treatment and prevention

In the acute phase you need to stretch the contracted muscle and make a gentle massage. Later we can make broad movements to ensure the overcoming of the episode.

They will help us to avoid continuous rehydration and adequate, progressive and continuous training. We also have to remember to make previous warming to any sporting activity and to improve the technique and the muscular imbalances.

Difference with contractures

Often we can fall into the mistake of confusing the contractures with the ramps. In fact, they have some things in common. Both appear involuntarily, they can affect a specific muscle and usually occur due to overload or muscle tiredness.

The main differences are that the restoration of pain occurs, in contractures, progressively. In addition, the disappearance of this pain is not spontaneous, as in the case of the cramps. In the contracture, the muscle is noted as a hardened cord and, despite suffering it, allows us to continue the sporting activity.

The symptoms of contracture become patents -clinically- when, when palpating the affected area, you notice a muscular pain, whether local, if it affects a specific muscle, or diffuse, if it affects a muscular group.

It also produces pain when a contraction is done with a force that exerts resistance to the movement that we want to do. Instead, only a tolerable annoyance is noted when a stretch is made.

With proper treatment it usually disappears in 4 or 6 days. This treatment consists in making miotensive stretching (with resistance), taking medications or analgesics that relax your muscles, massage, hydrotherapy (hot water baths) or apply other elements that produce local heat.

To prevent them, prior preparation and subsequent training and progressive musculature enhancement are important.


Differential Diagnosis


Involuntary contraction
Quick setup
Spontaneous resolution
Localized pain
Functional disability


Involuntary contraction
Progressive setup
Resolution with treatment
Local or diffuse pain
Continue the activity

the author

Albert Giménez

Sports physician and osteopath of the Claror Sardenya

Degree in Medicine (UAB). Osteopath

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