By Dr. Michelle Muhanda
A muscle cramp is an involuntary contraction of a muscle that does not relax. They range from a mild pain to agonizing pain. It may feel hard to touch or appear as a twitch beneath the skin and can last a few seconds to up to 30minutes or longer.
Muscle cramps are very common with golfers. At some point, almost every golfer will experience muscle cramps. They are more common in people who are overweight, over 65 years of age. Older people are more predisposed to muscle cramps due to muscle atrophy or muscle loss and reduced activity.
During a round of golf, muscle cramps can be as a result of muscle fatigue, inadequate stretching before golf, walking in intense heat, dehydration and reduction in electrolytes (salts and minerals).
Muscles cramps can also occur after a long period without playing golf as the muscles can easily get over exerted and this reduces the oxygen supply to the muscles causing buildup of electrolytes. This causes the muscle to remain in a contracted state. Golfing in intense heat can cause sweating that causes loss of electrolytes (salts and minerals) and fluids causing the muscle to contract.
During a round of golf, cramps occur mostly in the skeletal muscles and can affect part of the muscle or the whole muscle group. These include the thighs, calf, feet, hands and abdominal muscles.
Other types of cramps include Golfer’s cramp, Stomach cramps and Stitches. A Golfer’s cramp affects the muscles of the forearm and only occurs when playing golf. It is also called a typist’s cramp, pianist’s cramp, musician’s cramp, and writer’s cramp. The typical description is that of a middle-aged golfer who has played golf for many years and develops the problem in the form of a freezing of movement or spasms while putting or chipping, with the rest of the game being relatively unaffected. The problem generally worsens and different forms of treatment do not work.
Stomach cramps cause shallow breathing and poor digestion due to eating or drinking too much before a golf game while Stitches are smaller cramps due to accumulation of sodium and potassium
To prevent muscle cramps during a round, golfers should hydrate by drinking water at regular intervals, before getting thirsty. Always drink more water than normal during your golf round. When sweating a lot drink a sports beverage.
Do stretch and warm up exercises. Take least 10 minutes stretching your calves, hamstrings and quadriceps muscles before a golf round. Perform Calf muscle stretch while in a standing position with both feet pointed forward then straighten the rear leg. Hamstring muscle stretch is attained by sitting with one leg folded in and the other straight out, foot upright and toes and ankle relaxed. Lean forward slightly, touch foot of straightened leg. To stretch Quadriceps muscles, while standing, hold top of foot with opposite hand and gently pull heel toward buttocks. Hold each stretch briefly, then release. Never stretch to the point of pain.
Build up speed gradually. Walking too fast during the first half of the game may cause overexertion and muscle cramps. Build up your pace gradually.
Replenish electrolytes in your body. Consuming electrolyte-fortified sports drinks during a round of golf may help prevent muscle cramps.
Get a sports massage or physiotherapy. This will help relax knotted muscles and promote better blood flow to the muscles.
Other muscle cramps prevention measures include timing your meals by eating at least two hours before you go to play, Practice deep breathing during a round of golf and do other forms of exercises for overall fitness.
Muscle cramps can be treated by resting and stretching the muscle, massage and applying heat (using hot towel) or cold (using ice packs). In cases of severe pain use analgesics tables and ointments.
To relieve the pain from side stitches, stop and raise your arms above your head. Stretch the opposite side the stitch. Repeat several times until the pain eases.
Although most muscle cramps resolve, sometimes they can indicate a serious medical condition. See our doctor if the cramps are frequent, severe and respond poorly to treatment. Also consult our sports physiotherapists on how you can prevent and manage muscle cramps during golf.
Dr. Michelle Muhanda is the Chief Executive Officer at One Health Medical Centre, Unipen Apartments Block A, Hurlingham, Argwins Kodhek Road. firstname.lastname@example.org