Muscle Cramp Warning?

A physiological symptom may slightly predate muscle cramps. The skin in the vicinity of the oncoming cramp might feel cold to the touch a minute or two before the onset of the cramp. There does not seem to be any noticeable effect at the area where the skin coolness occurs. The body does not seem to be internally aware of this condition.

As an athlete for my entire adult life, I have sometimes had to deal with muscle cramps. Everyone who has seriously competed in any strenuous sport has certainly had cramps.

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It is generally known and accepted that body electrolyte level imbalances are the basic cause of cramps, and that Potassium, in the form of bananas or a sports drink, is supposed to correct the situation. Often, after someone experiences a cramp, people provide a banana or Gatorade to the victim. I have always personally wondered how in the world your body could digest a banana, get the Potassium into the bloodstream, and correct the localized damage of the cramp, all in the few minutes people generally credit to it. If that's really the case, that's truly amazing!

The point of this page is on a different but related matter. Occasionally, during Beach Volleyball Tournaments, between matches, while I would be resting, waiting for the next match, a cramp would occur, usually in one of my thighs. These usually seemed to happen to me on very hot days, where the exertion had been extreme in the previous match.

Oddly enough, just prior to the onset of such a cramp, and at a time when there were absolutely no symptoms or indications of one coming on, I have occasionally incidentally brushed my hand across some part of my thigh (usually to brush sand off!), and found that a sharply defined limited area seemed to feel COLD to the touch! The LEG did not have any sensation of being cold, and generally my whole body was rather overheated. So, it seemed particularly odd to feel that the skin of a small area of my leg felt actually cold to the touch. Not just cool, or un-hot, actually very noticeably cold! Each time I have noticed this situation, within one to three minutes later, a severe cramp would occur in that same area!

Each time, there had been no prior unusual feeling or soreness in the leg. As a matter of fact, once I discovered this phenomenon, I have since occasionally gotten up after feeling the cold area, and walked around absolutely normally, once even running. There was just NO suggestion that a cramp was soon going to occur except for the cold sensation of the skin surface!

Eventually, once I finally suspected a connection, I have started to do a precautionary behavior when it seemed that the heat and exertion might soon be about to inspire a leg cramp. I have taken to quickly "rub the sand off my legs" every couple of minutes, just so I would have a socially acceptable reason for briefly touching my leg surfaces with my hands. When I now feel a cold area of skin, as soon as possible I try to move to be in a position such that the muscles in that area are stretched as far as reasonably practical. Then, when a cramp begins, I can release the stretched length as necessary as the cramp progresses. I have found that, in this way, I (often, but not always) can experience a cramp and be completely recovered from it in under 10 seconds!


I offer this page as a suggestion for athletes who are prone to muscle cramps, to have another possible way of dealing with them. I also offer it in the hopes of finding other people who have noticed this COLD phenomenon. Finally, I offer it as a possible seed for research on the phenomenon, if such research has not yet been done.

I am a Physicist and not a doctor. I do not know how such a phenomenon could occur and I have not checked medical archives to see if anyone else has ever had or recognized this phenomenon. I merely present this as a personal method that I have found that works for me. Prior to discovering this, I had wound up attempting to compete in an immediately succeeding power volleyball tournament double's match while being virtually unable to move, and we would invariably lose to strong competition. Since I have discovered this "early warning" method, I would maintain awareness of that specific area in my mind, and the moment I felt any sensation at all there, I would fully stretch that muscle as mentioned above. In general, after about 10 seconds, the cramp had passed. Of course, I would have to explain that 10 second delay to the opponents and officials. Invariably, the opponents would then serve to me and try to take advantage of an expected incapacitation. But, virtually always, no lingering effects of the cramp remained, and I could again play flat out, and we would usually win!

Millions of other amateur and professional athletes have similar problems with cramps. Generally, the person has to leave the competition for some period of time, while trainers massage the muscles. My suspicion is that, if this premise is valid, it might be possible to somehow continuously monitor the skin surface temperature of areas that are prone to muscle cramps, and then it may be possible for others to use the method that works for me.

I do not know how such skin temperature monitoring might be done. I suppose that reasonable possibilities for professional basketball or volleyball players might be a trainer with a sensitive infrared camcorder-like device, so he could see a cold spot occur on some player. In the case of professional football or ice hockey players, where clothing and padding covers the skin, some sort of electronic thermocouples or other sensitive sensors could be placed next to the skin of areas susceptible to cramps.


This presentation was first placed on the Internet in August 1998.


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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago