Muscle cramps can really cramp your style. Whether you are in the middle of a regular workout or something more intense, like a 10K, a cramp can all but stop you in your tracks. The tightness and searing pain that accompany a muscle cramp have long been attributed to dehydration or tiny tears in the tissue’s cell membranes. But revolutionary new research suggests it may be neither.
Rod MacKinnon, a Nobel Prize-winning scientists, pursued the subject after a fateful kayaking trip in the waters off of Cape Code. He experienced severe hand cramping that neither hydration or replacing electrolytes, common remedies, could alleviate.
Once back on land, he began perusing theories about the origin of muscle cramps. His research led him on a path away from the muscles themselves but rather to the central nervous system instead, leading him to declare that “the primary origin of the cramp is the nerve, not the muscle.”
Over the next decade, he examined the surprising relationship between nerves and cramps. He discovered that if you could shock the nervous system itself with a painful, or in this case piquant/spicy experience, before the onset of physical activity, you would then produce a subtle numbing effect throughout the body, thereby eliminating the cramps. Strong, acidic, and pungrent things like pickle juice, sour cherry juice, and ginger or cayenne-infused liquids consumed before exercise greatly decreased muscle cramps reported by the participants in MacKinnon’s study.
This ground-breaking research was presented at last year’s meeting of the American Academy of Neurology and the American College of Sports Medicine.
So next time you are off pounding the pavement or hitting the gym, think about taking a shot of hot sauce, or a swig of wasabi, beforehand to keep the cramps at bay.
(Adapted from The Wall Street Journal)
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