Exertional Heat Cramps: Recovery and Return to Play

in Journal of Sport Rehabilitation
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In contrast to muscle cramps that are brought on by muscle overload or fatigue, exertional heat cramps seem to be prompted by extensive sweating and a significant sweat-induced whole-body sodium deficit. As a result of a consequent contracted interstitial compartment, axon terminals of selected motor neurons can become hyper-excitable and spontaneously discharge. Barely detectable muscle fasciculations or “twitches” in the affected muscles can rapidly progress to debilitating muscle cramps in just 20 to 30 minutes. To aid recovery, salt (NaCl) and water lost from sweating should be sufficiently replaced so as to restore the extracellular volume and interstitial fluid spaces. Sweat sodium, chloride, and fluid losses incurred during training and competition need to be closely matched by daily salt and fluid intake, in order to prevent an excessive sodium deficit, maintain sufficient fluid balance, and avoid exertional heat cramps.

The author is with the Medical College of Georgia, Department of Physical Therapy, Augusta, GA. E-mail: mbergero@mcg.edu.

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