As you might recall from previous posts, my family, living in the US, was visiting us recently and the “leg cramp” topic came up in one of our chats with my son-in-law Brett. That’s him with a recent catch in Charleston. As I had mentioned before, he is the hunter-gatherer of the family. He does, however, stray from healthy eating habits once in a while.
After a strenuous golf game in very hot Charleston weather, he experienced very painful cramps, which didn’t go away immediately.
My wife also gets frequent leg cramps, in bed and as she gets in the car, so I thought it would be a good idea to write about this widespread problem.
First, some fast facts about leg cramps.
- Leg cramps most commonly affect the calf muscle.
- Leg cramps typically last only a few minutes, but the pain can last for 24 hours.
- Older people and pregnant women are more prone to leg cramps.
- Most often, leg cramps are no cause for concern and have no medical significance.
- Dehydration, flat feet and alcohol abuse are potential factors involved in leg cramps.
- If stretching does not help, some doctors advise taking quinine (don’t do this on your own, do it under the supervision of a doctor).
- When diagnosing leg cramps, a doctor will rule out more serious conditions first.
- Supporting your toes while sleeping may prevent cramping.
- Some medications can increase the likelihood of cramps, including diuretics, salbutamol and statins.
CAUSES OF LEG CRAMPS
In the majority of cases, there is no underlying cause and we don’t really know why it happens; this is called idiopathic leg cramps. When a muscle tightens for a prolonged period, resulting in the muscle being shortened, it is stimulated to contract, causing it to go into a spasm (cramp) if it contracts further. This occurs more commonly while we are sleeping- our natural sleep position is with the knees slightly bent and the feet pointing downwards (shortening the calf muscle). The fact that stretching helps cure the problem makes the theory more compelling.
Secondary causes – sometimes the leg cramps are caused by an underlying disease, situation or activity. I will only dwell upon cramps caused by exercise and the resultant loss of water (dehydration) and electrolytes (the most important of which are sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, chloride and hydrogen phosphate). I leave the disease causes to your doctor.
What happened to Brett while playing golf in very hot weather was becoming dehydrated and the resulting loss of electrolytes. The answer, of course, is drinking plenty of water and getting the electrolytes back into his system. I don’t recommend Gatorade (a crappy drink) but opt for more natural means. AND STREACHING.
In fact, this is what I recommend for all sufferers of leg cramps that are not caused by strenuous exercise in hot weather.
Let’s first discuss drinking lots of water. Before the introduction of water in plastic bottles in the early 1980s, does anybody remember people walking around, shopping, etc., with these bottles in their hands? I don’t. I don’t remember a problem with widespread dehydration in those days either. Drink 2 liters of water is nothing more than hype by bottled water companies and their supporters.
The creator gave us a gift called feeling thirsty; just drink water when you feel thirsty.
It is said that this signal is weakened, as we get old. It hasn’t with me, but lets say it is common. Then just look at the color of your urine; it should be a pale yellow. If it is darker, an orange color, it means you are dehydrated. Look at it in the morning after your first pee; it will be dark as you are dehydrated when you get up each morning. One note: If you take Vitamin B complex supplements, this will not work as you urine will be dark colored from taking Vitamin B supplements.
Another risk of drinking more water than you need is the loss of many minerals (including electrolytes) when you urinate or sweat or even breathe.
So, stay hydrated, not over-hydrated.
It is advised that one takes 300 mg. of magnesium every day. This is OK, but I prefer and advise more natural ways of accomplishing this.
Consume as much as possible of the above foods.
Another list, very important also, is given below:
So drinking sufficient amounts of water and eating these foods will go a long way in reducing the occurrence of cramps.
Stay like this for 10 seconds and repeat 5-10 times.
Hope I have been helpful. See you all next week.