There’s nothing worse than dancing petit allegro in class and suddenly having your calf muscle cramp up. Whether in your arches, calves, or back, muscle cramps can be both extremely painful and frustrating. Essentially, a muscle cramp is a spasm that occurs when the muscle involuntarily contracts and will not release or relax. This can happen when your body is severely fatigued, dehydrated, or lacking electrolytes. Sometimes dancers even experience muscle spasms that wake them in the middle of the night! Here are a few ways to treat and combat muscle cramping:
Stay hydrated: Make sure you are drinking at least two liters of water each day. If you also consume caffeine (a diuretic), sweat a lot during class, or live in a hot and humid climate, tack on a few extra cups of water to your daily goal. Be sure to drink water before, during, and after activity. Fluids hydrate your cells and help your muscles contract and release.
Warm up and cool down: Warm-up and stretch your muscles adequately before taking class, rehearsing, or performing. When you rush into activity with cold muscles, your body is likely to tense up and overexert itself. Instead, ease your way into movement with light cardio and stretching so your body realizes, “Ok, it’s time to dance!” Cooling down post-dancing is important, too, so that your muscles get another chance to relax and stretch out.
Eat foods high in electrolytes: Calcium, sodium, and potassium are examples of electrolytes—which control nerve impulses in your body, allowing your muscles to contract and release. But when you’re low in electrolytes, your muscles can still contract, but they have a hard time relaxing. To keep your electrolytes in balance, nosh on Greek yogurt, bananas, peanut butter, string cheese, and coconut water.
Breathe: If you do experience a muscle cramp—either during class or even when you’re not dancing—try to breathe and relax until the spasm passes. Gently massage the contracted muscle and apply a heating pack to help encourage it to release.
Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed formula to prevent muscle cramps. But keeping your hydration, nutrition, and warm-up routine in check will certainly help reduce the likelihood of a muscle spasm interrupting your dancing.