The eyes of the world are now on London as we all get ready for the Olympics just under a month away. But what do athletes really have to go through? For the weeks leading to the games, Dr Neil Gardner, an Olympian and a doctor of chiropractic, will share some valuable insights with readers.
As the athletes settle into their blocks, the hush comes over the stadium. The pistol goes up, hips slowly and steadily rise into the air, and with the explosion of the starter's gun they are off. How often do we see one of our favourite athletes 'pull up' and have to stop or slow down before the tape, relinquishing a seemingly insurmountable advantage? Then the inevitable question, "Did he pull a muscle or is it just a cramp?"
We often hear in the post-race interview that we should not worry, it was only a cramp. What is the difference between the two? A muscle cramp is a sudden unpleasant sensation caused by a constricted muscle that is held in a state of contraction. This may be due to many reasons including muscle fatigue, low electrolytes (sodium or potassium), or low minerals (calcium or magnesium).
A muscle strain or tear is more commonly known as a 'muscle pull' and is a more serious condition; one in which the actual fibres of the muscle get torn as a result of overstretching or sudden elongation of a shortened muscle due to a cramp or because of abnormal firing patterns of the muscles of the legs. A low back injury may cause abnormal firing sequence of muscles that may result in a muscle contracting during a phase of motion that requires it to be elongating.
Many normal persons may have a muscle cramp from time to time, for example, the soles of the feet, or the back of the thighs or the calf muscles. When this happens during our slumber, it may wake us up and we may be uncomfortable for a while, until it relaxes. However, when this happens while a highly trained athlete is running 'full hilt', it is an entirely different matter. The otherwise harmless cramp may end up pulling or tearing the muscle due to the momentum of the moving limb against the cramping muscle.
One way to protect our athletes from a muscle tear is to reduce the likelihood of muscle cramps by ensuring that they are properly trained and prepared for competition, well hydrated and have adequate minerals and electrolytes in their diets. Being assessed by their chiropractor is also important in ensuring that the nerves from the low back that supply the muscles of their legs are firing appropriately. This will ensure that working muscles are contracting while elongating muscles are relaxing.
Dr Neil Gardner is an Olympian, a doctor of chiropractic, and a diplomate of the American Chiropractic Neurology Board. They are located at: Gardner Chiropractic & Neurology Ltd, Suite 15, Braemar Suites, 1D-1E Braemar Avenue, Kingston 10.