PT on the Net Research

Muscle Cramps With Ab Work


Every time we do abdominal work, my client gets muscle cramps and spasms to the point he can’t even bend down. What might be causing this, and what can we do to prevent it?


Muscle cramps hurt. Most skeletal muscle cramps are associated with heat and hyperthermia (i.e., dehydration). What actually sets a muscle into a spasm or cramp is not well defined. Most literature recommends a salty solution to “correct” any abnormal electrolyte balance.

Because your client’s level of fitness and training environment is not mentioned, it is difficult to determine if an electrolyte imbalance is the trigger. The pecking order for electrolytes and muscle cramps is sodium, calcium and potassium. The other “lytes” are also important, but these are lost more frequently in people who exercise. This is also seen in people who have been on some type of depletion diet or are using some type of diuretics.

You mentioned muscle weakness as a possible trigger for the spasm. This could be the case, but most people who are de-conditioned usually just “peter out” before they contract so hard that they cramp. However, it is possible. As I mentioned before, the exact cause of cramps is un-determined. There are many possible things that can cause your client to have muscle spasms like neural disease and a few metabolic disorders. Again, I do not know your client’s history and leave that area up to you and your expertise.

The only other thing worth mentioning, regarding a possible trigger for your client, is excessive motor nerve activity. There seems to be a train of thought out there that muscle spasms are triggered by abnormal involvement of the spinal nerves associated with the area involved. It seems to take place when the muscles are in contracted position. This then activates the alpha motor neurons and results in a muscle spasm. If this is the case, you may want to try some different mid section exercises and see if he gets the "spasming" effect. Maybe try some standing cable torso work and move into the exercise ball (the PTN Exercise Library has hundreds of exercises). If things are progressing well, go back to the exercise that created the spasm and see what happens. If it is muscle weakness, then it may be gone. If it is the excessive nerve activation, then it will happen again.

Other than these things above, alleviating muscle spasms is a trial and error thing. When all else fails, have your client see his health care provider. Always better to be safe.

Good luck.