By accident a group of German scientists may have solved what haunted athletes for eternities: muscle cramps.
A Cramping Update
It was just two months ago that I took the Football World Cup as an excuse to sneak in an article about muscle cramps (or muscle cramps to sneak in the World Cup).
Back then I wrote that the reason for and a reliable remedy against cramps are unknown.
But now German researchers found the most promising cure against cramps so far.
Hypertrophy Through Electricity
You know when you run current through a muscle you can make it cramp, which is also why people who touch a high voltage line can’t let go.
Cue a group of German researchers who tried to find out if you could induce hypertrophy and strength gains through inducing cramps via electricity. A cramp, they reasoned, is a muscle under tension, and tension is also what a muscle experiences when a person lifts a weight.
To find out they had participants wear a modified skiing shoe, to which they applied low voltage electricity.
Stimulating hypertrophy didn’t happen, but something else did: it became harder and harder to make people cramp.
It Became Harder To Induce Cramps
Making a muscle cramp through electricity depends less on the voltage you apply, but on the frequency. In most people you get their muscles to cramp at 22 Hz, which also was the case for the people taking part in this study.
But the longer they participated, the higher their cramping threshold became. Midway through the study the average was already at 33 Hz, and at the end it leveled off at about 36 Hz.
In one participant it even became impossible to induce cramps.
How Does It Work?
According to the researchers it’s likely that there are two of your sensors involved in this: the Golgi tendon organ, responsible for measuring muscle tension, and the muscle spindle, a receptor sitting deep inside a muscle, tracking how far the muscle is lengthened.
Here is a video with a pretty good explanation:
The Germans reason that the two have to stay in balance and that applying the current may make them more tolerant before they react to changes.
The scientists’ really long and detailed explanation is in the paper, under the “Discussion” heading. Be warned: it doesn’t make for easy reading.
No More Cramps?
So far the effect lasts for a week plus x. Which raises the question: what sense does it make to induce muscle cramps for a week to be free of them for, well, a week too?
This is where further research has to clarify how the effect can be made to last longer, as in the case of the participant they couldn’t get to cramp no matter what.
Picture courtesy of “pedrojperez“.