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

Is Our Microbiome Affected By Exercise?

Posted November 6, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Microbiome Mysteries

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

is our microbiome affected by exerciseIn a recent post,  What is Your Microbiome and Why is it Important,  of “Health Tips From The Professor” I outlined how our microbiome, especially the bacteria that reside in our intestine, influences our health. That influence can be either good or bad depending on which species of bacteria populate our gut. I also discussed how the species of bacteria that populate our gut are influenced by what we eat and, in turn, influence how the foods we eat are metabolized.

I shared that there is an association between obesity and the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut. At present, this is a “chicken and egg” conundrum. We don’t know whether obesity influences the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut, or whether certain species of gut bacteria cause us to become obese.

Previous studies have shown that there is also an association between exercise and the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut. In particular, exercise is associated with an increase in bacteria that metabolize fiber in our diets to short chain fatty acids such as butyrate. That is potentially important because butyrate is a primary food source for intestinal mucosal cells (the cells that line the intestine). Butyrate helps those cells maintain the integrity of the gut barrier (which helps prevent things like leaky gut syndrome). It also has an anti-inflammatory effect on the immune cells that reside in the gut.

However, associations don’t prove cause and effect. We don’t know whether the differences in gut bacteria were caused by differences in diet or leanness in populations who exercised regularly and those who did not. This is what the present study (JM Allen et al, Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 50: 747-757, 2018 ) was designed to clarify.  Is our microbiome affected by exercise?

 

How Was The Study Designed?

is our microbiome affected by exercise studyThis study was performed at the University of Illinois. Thirty-two previously sedentary subjects (average age = 28) were recruited for the study. Twenty of them were women and 12 were men. Prior to starting the study, the participants filled out a 7-day dietary record. They were asked to follow the same diet throughout the 12-week study. In addition, a dietitian designed a 3-day food menu based on their 7-day recall for the participants to follow prior to each fecal collection to determine species of gut bacteria.

The study included a two-week baseline when their baseline gut bacteria population was measured, and participants were tested for fitness. This was followed by a 6-week exercise intervention consisting of three supervised 30 to 60-minute moderate to vigorous exercise sessions per week. The exercise was adapted to the participant’s initial fitness level, and both the intensity and duration of exercise increased over the 6-week exercise intervention. Following the exercise intervention, all participants were instructed to maintain their diet and refrain from exercise for another 6 weeks. This was referred to as the “washout period.”

VO2max (a measure of fitness) was determined at baseline and at the end of the exercise intervention. Stool samples for determination of gut bacteria and concentrations of short-chain fatty acids were taken at baseline, at the end of the exercise intervention, and again after the washout period.

In short, this study divided participants into lean and obese categories and held diet constant. The only variable was the exercise component.

 

Is Our Microbiome Affected By Exercise?

is our microbiome affected by exercise fitnessThe results of the study were as follows:

  • Fitness, as assessed by VO2max, increased for all the participants, and the increase in fitness was comparable for both lean and obese subjects.
  • Exercise induced a change in the population of gut bacteria, and the change was comparable in lean and obese subjects.
  • Exercise increased fecal concentrations of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids in the lean subjects, but not in obese subjects.
  • The exercise-induced changes in gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acid production were largely reversed once exercise training ceased.

The authors concluded: “These findings suggest that exercise training induces compositional and functional changes in the human gut microbiota that are dependent on obesity status, independent of diet, and contingent on the sustainment of exercise.” [Note: To be clear, the exercise-induced changes in both gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acid production were independent of diet and contingent on the sustainment of exercise. However, only the production of short-chain fatty acids was dependent on obesity status.]

 

What Does This Study Mean For You?

is our microbiome affected by exercise gut bacteriaThere are two important take home lessons from this study.

  • With respect to our gut bacteria, I have consistently told you that microbiome research is an emerging science. This is a small study, so you should regard it as the beginning of our understanding of the effect of exercise on our microbiome rather than conclusive by itself. It is consistent with previous studies showing an association between exercise and a potentially beneficial shift in the population of gut bacteria.

The strength of the study is that it shows that exercise-induced changes in beneficial gut bacteria are probably independent of diet. However, it is the first study to look at the interaction between obesity, exercise and gut bacteria, so I would interpret those results with caution until they have been replicated in subsequent studies.

  • With respect to exercise, this may be yet another reason to add regular physical activity to your healthy lifestyle program. We already know that exercise is important for cardiovascular health. We also know that exercise increases lean muscle mass which increases metabolic rate and helps prevent obesity. There is also excellent evidence that exercise improves mood and helps prevent cognitive decline as we age.

Exercise is also associated with decreased risk of colon cancer and irritable bowel disease. This effect of exercise has not received much attention because the mechanism of this effect is unclear. This study shows that exercise increases the fecal concentrations of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids. Perhaps, this provides the mechanism for the interaction between exercise and intestinal health.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study has reported that:

  • Exercise induces a change in the population of gut bacteria, and the change was comparable in lean and obese subjects.
  • Exercise causes an increase in the number of gut bacteria that produce butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids that are beneficial for gut health.
  • These effects are independent of diet, but do not appear to be independent of obesity because they were seen in lean subjects but not in obese subjects.
  • The exercise-induced changes in gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acid production are largely reversed once exercise training ceases.

The authors concluded: “These findings suggest that exercise training induces compositional and functional changes in the human gut microbiota that are dependent on obesity status, independent on diet, and contingent on the sustainment of exercise.”

For more details and my interpretation of the data, 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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