Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A New Way to Prevent Muscle Cramps

Could there finally be a way to prevent muscle cramps?

As long as people have played sports, unexpected muscle cramps have been an Achilles' heel for everyone from aspiring Olympians to weekend warriors.

For decades physicians and other experts in sports medicine have theorized that a cramp was the result of a muscle that was dehydrated, or starved of electrolytes, or suffering tears in its micro-fibers and cell membranes. These caused pain and spasms that could only be alleviated with water and electrolytes, conventional wisdom held.

Now, more experts are beginning to believe we may have been thinking wrongly about cramps all along. A shot of spicy liquid—think wasabi or hot chilies—may be a far more effective treatment than an energy drink or a banana. All it took was a Nobel Prize winner experiencing some untimely cramps while sea kayaking a decade ago for people to begin to understand that the causes of muscle cramps may not have much to do with muscles at all.

“The primary origin of the cramp is the nerve, not the muscle,” said Rod MacKinnon, the kayaker and Nobel Prize winning scientist who studies molecular neurobiology and biophysics at Rockefeller University and has led the new thinking on cramps. (...)

Exercise science isn’t generally an area that winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry indulge in. Dr. MacKinnon won the Nobel after he and his colleagues provided the first atomic structures of the protein molecules that make electrical signals in living organisms.

Nevertheless, cramps were on Dr. MacKinnon’s mind. After perusing the existing research he and Dr. Bean hypothesized that they could modify the nervous system, including the motor neurons controlling muscle, by applying a strong sensory input and by stimulating receptors in the mouth and esophagus—which is how scientists describe ingesting pungent tasting foods. The pungent-taste overloads nerve receptors, producing a kind of numbing effect.

Or, as Dr. MacKinnon explains it, “The strong sensory input causes inhibition of the motor output.”

by Matthew Futterman, WP |  Read more:
Image: Bruce Bean