Emergency Treatment for Calf Cramps

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Exercise, Muscle Therapy and Health

To Stretch or Not To Stretch

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

calf crampsA calf cramp is caused by several different conditions, such as dehydration and mineral deficiency.  These each need to be addressed to prevent future calf cramps, but when your calf spasms wake you with a jolt at night or send you crashing to the ground in agony, you need a solution NOW!

And, stretching is definitely NOT the first thing to do.

 

Emergency Treatment for Calf Cramps

A muscle always contracts 100% before releasing.  Once started, a calf cramp will not partially contract and then reverse because you stretch, as it may cause the muscle fibers to tear, which will cause pain to be felt for days afterward.

As a result, it is most beneficial to help your muscle complete the painful contraction before you try to stretch it.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but it cuts the time of the calf cramp down, and enables you to start flushing out the toxins that formed during the sudden spasm.

Your muscle will be all knotted up, screaming in pain, so it’s good to practice this self-treatment when you are not having a calf cramp.

Grab your calf muscles as shown in this picture.  Hold it tightly, and then as hard as you can, push your two hands together.

The intention is to help the muscle complete the contraction as quickly as possible.  During an actual calf cramp it won’t be as “neat” as the picture shows, but anything you can do to shorten the muscle fibers will hasten the completion of the spasm.

Follow These Steps To Release Your Calf Cramps

  • Hold your hands and continue pushing the muscle together until you can begin to breathe normally again.  Continue holding it another 30 seconds, bringing in as much oxygen as possible with slow, deep, breathing.
  • Release your hands and keep breathing deeply.
  • Repeat #1.  This time it won’t hurt, but you are helping any last muscle fibers to complete the contraction before you move to release the spasm.
  • Begin to squeeze your entire calf as if you were squeezing water out of a thick towel.  Move from the top of your calf and go down toward your ankle.  This will feel good, so do it for as long as you can.
  • It is now safe to stretch your calf muscle because the cramp has completed and you have flushed out the toxins.  Stretch slowly, and don’t go past the point of “feels so good”.  You don’t want to overstretch.

This calf cramps emergency treatment has been proven successful by endurance athletes who have written to me saying how they could continue their race (or training) without any further pain.

This is a very important tip to share with all athletes.  Please tell your friends on Facebook and Twitter, it helps athletes prevent injury and pain.

 

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

About The Author

Julie DonnellyJulie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

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Comments (14)

  • JoanLubar-Alvarez

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    An exercise physiologist taught me this same technique many years ago and, sure enough, I woke up one night screaming in pain, grabbed my calf and squeezed and the cramp immediately released. Fantastic!!
    Now I make sure I have extra magnesium, along with my regular calcium combination before I go to bed and am hydrated during the day.

    Reply

  • Jean Bresser

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    VERY good news…my husband and one of my daughters suffer from leg cramps I’ll sending this to them. Thank you.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

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      Hi Jean. Julie Donnelly here, visiting with Dr. Chaney and Suzanne. Dr. Chaney showed me your message and asked me to reply. I hope this has helped your husband and daughter. Cramps are commonly caused by a nutritional imbalance, but it’s sure helpful to know how to stop it faster, and how to reverse the muscle tension without injuring the muscle fibers. Wishing you well, Julie

      Reply

  • Shirley J. Welder

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    I don’t get the cramps in my calf, I get them in my uper part of my leg, the large part between my knee and pelvic when I start to stretch before getting out of bed in the morning and I have to limp around the room before I can relieve it! The pain is horrible! I try to drink water through the night when I’m up but maybe its the mnerals that my body isn’t absorbing for some reason! Please give me some advise on what I can do uf theres any! thanks, SJW

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Hi Shirley. Julie Donnelly here, visiting with Dr. Chaney and Suzanne. Dr. Chaney showed me your message and asked me to reply. Thigh cramps are exactly the same as calf cramps, only less common. Dr. Chaney is going to come to advise you about the nutritional aspect of this problem, but for the treatment portion, just put your hands on either side of the cramp and push the muscles together. Your goal is to shorten the muscle as quickly and thoroughly as possible. It’s more of a challenge when it’s your thigh, but you can do it. Hold the push until you feel the cramp easing, then let it go and take some deep breaths. Then push it one last time…it won’t hurt this time. Hold it for 15-30 seconds, and then begin to knead the muscles like you were wringing out a thick wet towel, moving from the top of your leg down toward your knee. Wishing you well, Julie

      Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

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      Dear Shirley,

      Calcium and magnesium are the minerals that are most frequently helpful at reducing cramps.

      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

  • Patti Ellsworth

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    Do foot cramps while sleeping (usually in very high arches) need the same type of massage and are they indicative of calcium and magnesium deficiency also?
    Thanks,
    Patti

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Hi Patti. Julie Donnelly here, visiting with Dr. Chaney and Suzanne. Dr. Chaney showed me your message and asked me to reply. The answer is yes, you can treat the arch in a similar manner. Push your foot so the length of your arch (from heel to the ball of your foot) is being shortened. Put your finger into the center of the spasm at the same time. It’s pretty painful, but it will shorten the length of time it takes for the spasm to stop, and it will start to release the tension in the muscle fibers. After it has stopped, take your thumbs and deeply slide along the length of the arch going from your heel toward the ball of the foot. Dr. Chaney will continue this response to advise about the minerals. Wishing you well, Julie

      Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

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      Dear Patti,

      Calcium and magnesium are indeed the nutrients which help most in preventing cramping. Making sure you are adequately hydrated (i.e. have an adequate intake of water) is also very important. We become dehydrated more easily as we age.

      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

  • Joseph Adami

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    Does this work for cramps In the thigh or the shin?

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

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      Hi Joseph. Julie Donnelly here, visiting with Dr. Chaney and Suzanne. Dr. Chaney showed me your message and asked me to reply. The answer is yes, you can do the same treatment for thigh &/or shin cramps, or even cramps in your hamstrings or foot. The idea is to shorten the muscle in whatever manner possible. For example, with the shin you would put your fingers on either side of the cramp and push your fingers together to shorten the muscle fibers. Hold it, and if you possibly can reach, put a finger directly on the top of the spasm at the same time. This is how you would also treat an arch cramp. For the thigh you put your full hand on either side of the cramp and push together. Treat it the same as you do for the calf. Wishing you well, Julie

      Reply

  • marcay Dickens

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    I missed this TIP due to travel and a computer mal-function. It would be useful to broaden the Search Box – for instance, I tried charlie horse. Nope. And I tried something else. Nope.

    It would also be useful to include the minerals especially useful to lessen possibility of cramps.

    Reply

  • Sheri

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    Are calcium and magnesium supplements safe for pregnant women?
    Thank you!

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Sheri,

      The answer is yes as long as you stay within the RDA recommendations for pregnant women. For calcium the RDA recommendations are 1,300 mg/day for age 14-18 and 1,000 mg/day for age 19-50. There is also a recommendation for pregnant women not to exceed 2,500 mg/day. For magnesium the RDA recommendations are 400 mg/day for age 14-18, 350 mg/day for age 19-30, and 360 mg/day for age 32-50.

      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

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Latest Article

Should You Avoid Sugar Completely?

Posted October 24, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Is It The Sugar, Or Is It The Food?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Should we avoid sugar completely?  Almost every expert agrees that Americans should cut down on the amount of sugar we are consuming. However, for some people this has become a “sugar phobia”. They have sworn that “sugar shall never touch their lips”. Not only do they avoid sugar sweetened sodas and junk food, but they also have become avid label readers. They scour the label of every food they see and reject foods they find any form of sugar listed as an ingredient. Is this degree of sugar avoidance justified?

 

Should We Avoid Sugar to Keep it From Killing Us?

 

Let me add some perspective:

  • If you just take studies about the dangers of sugar at face value, sugar does, indeed, look dangerous. Excess sugar consumption is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, when you look a little closer, you find that most of these studies have been done by looking at the correlation of each of these conditions with sugar sweetened beverage consumption (sodas and fruit juices).

A few studies have looked at the correlation of obesity and disease with total “added sugar” consumption. However, 71.6% of added sugar in the American diet comes from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food. None of the studies have looked at the sugar from healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That’s because there is ample evidence that these foods decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

  • For example, if apples had a nutrition label, it would list 16 grams of sugar in a medium 80 calorie apple, which corresponds to about 80% of the calories in that apple. The sugar in an apple is about the same proportion of fructose and glucose found in high fructose corn syrup. Apples are not unique. The nutrition label would read about the same on most other fruits. Does that mean you should avoid sugar from all fruits? I think not.

Avoid Sugar or Avoid Certain Foods

 

avoid sugar from junk foodsThe obvious question is: “Why are the same sugars, in about the same amounts, unhealthy in sodas and healthy in fruits?” Let’s go back to those studies I just mentioned—the ones that are often used to vilify sugars. They are all association studies, the association of sugar intake with obesity and various diseases.

The weakness of association studies is the association could be with something else that is tightly correlated with the variable (sugar intake) that you are measuring. Could it be the food that is the problem, not the sugar?

If we look at healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) they are chock full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and (sometimes) protein. Fiber and protein slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. As a result, blood sugar levels rise slowly and are sustained at relatively low levels for a substantial period of time.

In sodas there is nothing to slow the absorption of blood sugar. You get rapid rise in blood sugar followed by an equally rapid fall. The same is true of junk foods consisting primarily of sugar, refined flour and/or fat.  Avoid sugar from those types of foods.

Another consideration is something called caloric density. Here is a simple analogy. I used to explain the concept of caloric density to medical students in my teaching days. There are about the same number of calories in a 2-ounce candy bar and a pound of apples (around 278 in the 2-ounce candy bar and 237 in a pound of apples). You can eat a 2-ounce candy bar and still be hungry. If you eat a pound of apples you are done for a while. In this example, the 2-ounce candy bar had a high caloric density (a lot of calories in a small package). Perhaps a more familiar terminology would be the candy bar was just empty calories.

Are Sodas and Junk Foods Killing Us?

avoid sugar from candyPutting all that together, you can start to understand why the foods the sugars are in are more important than the sugars themselves. When you consume sugars in the form of sugar sweetened beverages or sugary junk foods, your appetite increases. We don’t know for sure whether it is the intense sweetness of those foods, the rapid increase and fall in blood sugar, or the high caloric density (lots of calories ina small package) that makes us hungrier. It doesn’t matter. We crave more food, and it isn’t usually fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates we crave. It’s more junk. That sets in motion a predictable sequence of events.

  • We overeat. Those excess calories are stored as fat and we become obese. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you our fat stores come from carbohydrates alone. That is incorrect. All excess calories, whether from protein, fat, or carbohydrate, are stored as fat.]
  • It’s not just the fat you can see (belly fat) that is the problem. Some of that fat builds up in our liver and muscles. This sets up an unfortunate sequence of metabolic events.
  • The fat stores release inflammatory cytokines into our bloodstream. That causes inflammation. Inflammation increases the risk of many diseases including heart disease and cancer.
  • The fat stores also cause our cells to become resistant to insulin. That reduces the ability of our cells to take up glucose, which leads to hyperglycemia and type 2 diabetes. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you carbohydrates cause type 2 diabetes. That is also incorrect. It is our fat stores that cause insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Our fat stores come from all excess calories, not just excess calories from carbohydrates.]
  • Insulin resistance also causes the liver to overproduce cholesterol and triglycerides and pump them into the bloodstream. That increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Sugar sweetened beverages and sugary junk foods also displace healthier foods from our diet. That leads to potential nutrient shortfalls that can increase our risk of many diseases.

However, none of this has to happen. The one thing that every successful diet has in common is the elimination of sodas, junk foods, fast foods and convenience foods. You should avoid sugar from those foods as much as possible. Once you eliminate those from your diet,you significantly enhance your chances of being at a healthy weight and being healthy long term.

 

What About Protein Supplements And Similar Foods?

Of course, the dilemma is what you, as an intrepid label reader, should do about protein supplements, meal replacement bars, or snack bars. They are supposed to be healthy, but the label lists one or more sugars. Even worse, the sugar content is higher than your favorite health guru recommends.  So, should you avoid sugar from supplements and the like?

In this case, a more useful concept is glycemic index, which is a measure of the effect of the food on your blood sugar levels. Healthy foods like apples may have a high sugar content, but they havea low glycemic index.

avoid sugar and consume protein to slow absorbptionThe same is true for the protein supplements and bars you are considering. Rather than looking at the sugar content, you should be looking for the term “low glycemic” on the label. That means there is enough fiber and protein in the food to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and stabilize your blood sugar levels.

What Does This Mean For You?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should work on ways to avoid sugar or reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners. I have warned about the dangers of artificial sweeteners previously.

We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. For example, some Starbucks drinks are mostly sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

So we don’t have to avoid sugar completely, but we should reduce sugar from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food.

 

The Bottom Line

 

We need to keep warnings about the dangers of sugar in perspective:

  • The studies showing that sugar consumption leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have all been done with sodas and junk foods.
  • Many fruits have just as much sugar as a soda. They also contain about the same proportion of fructose and glucose as high fructose corn syrup. Yet we know fruits are good for us.
  • Diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains decrease our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • That is because the sugar in whole foods is generally present along with fiber and protein, which slows the absorption of sugar and prevents the blood sugar spikes we get with sodas and junk foods.
  • In the case of prepared foods like protein supplements, you should look for “low glycemic” on the label rather than sugar content. Low glycemic means that there is enough fiber and protein in the product to slow the absorption of sugar and prevent blood sugar spikes.
  • Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should all work on ways to avoid sugar from junk foods or to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners.
  • We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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