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

      |

      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

      |

      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

    |

    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

    |

    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

Does Protein Supplement Timing Matter?

Posted May 15, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

How Do You Gain Muscle Mass & Lose Fat Mass?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

protein supplement timingMost of what you read about protein supplements on the internet is wrong. That is because most published studies on protein supplements:

  • Are very small
  • Are not double blinded.
    • Both the subjects and the investigators knew who got the protein supplement.
  • Are done by individual companies with their product.
    • You have no idea which ingredients are in their product are responsible for the effects they report.
    • You have no idea how their product compares with other protein products.
    • There is no standardization with respect to the amount or type of protein or the addition of non-protein ingredients.

Because of these limitations there is a lot of misleading information on the benefits of protein supplements timing and maximal benefit. Let’s start by looking at why people use protein supplements. Let’s also look at what is generally accepted as true with respect to the best supplement timing.

There are 4 major reasons people consume protein supplements:

  • Enhance the muscle gain associated with resistance training: In this case, protein supplements are customarily consumed concurrently with the workout.
  • Preserve muscle and accelerate fat loss while on a weight loss diet: In this case, protein supplements are customarily consumed with meals or as meal replacements.
  • Provide a healthier protein source. In this case, protein supplements are customarily consumed with meals in place of meat protein.
  • Prevent muscle loss associated with aging or illness. There is no customary pattern associated with this use of protein supplements.

How good are the data supporting the customary timing of protein supplementation? The answer is: Not very good. The timing is based on a collection of weak studies which do not always agree with each other.

The current study  (J.L. Hudson et al, Nutrition Reviews, 76: 461-468, 2018 ) was designed to fill this void in our knowledge. It is a meta-analysis that compares all reasonably good studies that have looked at the effect of protein supplement timing on weight gain or loss, lean muscle mass gain, fat loss, and the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass.

How Was The Study Done?

The authors started by doing a literature search of all studies that met the following criteria:

  • The study was a randomized control trial with parallel design. This means that study contained a control group. It does not mean that the investigators or subjects were blinded with respect to which subjects used a protein supplement and which did not.
  • The subjects were engaged in resistance training.
  • The study lasted 6 weeks or longer.
  • Reliable methods were used to measure body composition (lean muscle mass and fat mass).
  • The subjects were healthy and at least 19 years old.
  • There was no restriction on the food the subjects consumed.

The authors started with 2074 published studies and ended up with 34 that met all their criteria. They then separated the studies into two groups – those in which the protein supplements were used with meals and those in which the protein supplements were used between meals.

Both groups were diverse.

  • Group 1 included subjects who consumed their protein supplement with their meal and those who consumed their protein supplement as a meal replacement.
  • Group 2 included subjects who consumed their protein supplement concurrent with exercise (usually immediately after exercise) and those who consumed their protein supplement at a fixed time of day not associated with exercise.

Does Protein Supplement Timing Matter?

 

protein supplement timing workoutsBecause the individual studies were very diverse in the way they were designed, the authors could not calculate a reliable estimate of how much lean muscle mass was increased or fat mass was decreased. Instead, they calculated the percentage of studies showing an increase in lean muscle mass or a decrease in fat mass.

When the authors compared protein supplements consumed with meals versus protein supplements consumed between meals:

  • Weight gain was observed in 56% of the studies of protein supplementation with meals compared to 72% of the studies of protein supplementation between meals. In other words, protein supplements consumed with meals were less likely to lead to weight gain than protein supplements consumed between meals.
  • An increase in lean muscle mass was observed in 94% of the studies of protein supplementation with meals compared to 90% of the studies of protein supplementation between meals. In other words, timing of protein supplementation did not matter with respect to increase in muscle mass.
  • A loss of fat mass was observed in 87% of the studies of protein supplementation with meals compared to 59% of the studies of protein supplementation between meals. In other words, protein supplements consumed with meals were more likely to lead to loss of fat mass.
  • An increase in the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass was observed in 100% of the studies of protein supplementation with meals compared to 87% of the studies of protein supplementation between meals. In short, protein supplements consumed with meals were slightly more likely to lead to an increase in the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass.

The following seem to suggest protein supplement timing matters:

The authors pointed out that their findings were consistent with previous studies showing that when protein supplements are consumed with a meal they displace some of the calories that otherwise would have been consumed. Simply put, people naturally compensate by eating less of other foods.

In contrast, the authors stated that previous studies have shown that when foods, especially liquid foods, are consumed as snacks (between meals), people are less likely to compensate by reducing the calories consumed in the next meal.

The others concluded: “Concurrently with resistance training, consuming protein supplements with meals, rather than between meals, may more effectively promote weight control and reduce fat mass without influencing improvements in lean [muscle] mass.”

What Are The Limitations Of The Study?

Meta-analyses such as this one, are only as good as the studies included in the meta-analysis. Unfortunately, most sports nutrition studies are very weak studies. Thus, this meta-analysis is a perfect example of the “Garbage In: Garbage Out (GI:GO)” phenomenon.

For example, let’s start by looking at what the term “protein supplement” meant.

  • Because the studies were done by individual companies with their product, the protein supplements in this meta-analysis:
    • Included whey, casein, soy, bovine colostrum, rice or combinations of protein sources.
    • Were isolates, concentrates, or hydrolysates.
    • Contained various additions like creatine, amino acids, and carbohydrate.
  • As I discuss in my book, Slaying the Food Myths, previous studies have shown that optimal protein and leucine levels are needed to maximize the increase in muscle mass and decrease in fat mass associated with resistance exercise. However, neither protein nor leucine levels were standardized in the protein supplements included in this meta-analysis.
  • Previous studies have shown that protein supplements that have little effect on blood sugar levels (have a low glycemic index) are more likely to curb appetite. However, glycemic index was not standardized for the protein supplements included in this meta-analysis.

protein supplement timing workout peopleIn short, the conclusions of this study might be true for some protein supplements, but not for others. We have no way of knowing.

We also need to consider the composition of the two groups.

  • Protein supplements used as meal replacements are more likely to decrease weight and fat mass than protein supplements consumed with meals. Yet, both were included in group 1.
  • Some studies suggest that protein supplements consumed concurrent with resistance exercise are more likely to increase muscle mass than protein supplements consumed another time of day. Yet, both are included in group 2. We also have no idea whether the meals with protein supplements in group 1 were consumed shortly after exercise or at an entirely different time of day.

This was the most glaring weakness of the study because it was completely avoidable. The authors could have grouped the studies into categories that made more sense.

In other words, there are multiple weaknesses that limit the predictive power of this study.

What Can We Learn From This Study?

Despite its many limitations, this study does remind us that protein supplements do have calories. This is of relatively little importance for people whose primary goal is to increase lean muscle mass.

However, most of us are using protein supplements to lose weight or to increase our lean mass to fat mass ratio. Simply put, we are either trying to lean out (shape up) or lose weight. And, we want to lose that weight primarily by getting rid of excess fat. For us, calories do matter. With that in mind:

  • If we are consuming a protein supplement immediately after exercise or between meals we probably should make a conscious effort to reduce our daily caloric intake elsewhere in our diet.
  • Alternatively, we could consume the protein supplement with a meal, but time the meal so it occurs shortly after exercise.

 

The Bottom Line:

 

A recent study looked at the optimal timing of protein supplements consumed by subjects who were engaged in resistance exercise. Specifically, the study compared protein supplements consumed with meals versus protein supplements consumed between meals on weight, lean muscle mass, fat mass, and the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass. The study reported:

  • Protein supplements consumed with meals were less likely to lead to weight gain than protein supplements consumed between meals.
  • Timing of protein supplementation did not matter with respect to increase in muscle mass.
  • Protein supplements consumed with meals were more likely to lead to loss of fat mass.
  • Protein supplements consumed with meals were slightly more likely to lead to an increase in the ratio of lean mass to fat mass.

The authors pointed out that their findings were consistent with previous studies showing that when a protein supplement was consumed with a meal it displaces some of the calories that would have been otherwise consumed. Simply put, people naturally compensate by eating less of other foods.

In contrast, the authors said that previous studies have shown that when foods, especially liquid foods, are consumed as snacks (between meals), people are less likely to compensate by reducing the calories consumed in the next meal.

As discussed in the article above, the study has major weaknesses. However, despite its many weaknesses, this study does remind us that protein supplements do have calories. This is of relatively little importance for people whose primary goal is to increase lean muscle mass.

However, for those of us who are using protein supplements to lose weight or to increase our lean mass to fat mass ratio, calories do matter.  With that in mind:

  • If we are consuming a protein supplement immediately after exercise or between meals we probably should make a conscious effort to reduce our daily caloric intake elsewhere in our diet.
  • Alternatively, we could consume the protein supplement with a meal, but time the meal so it occurs shortly after exercise.

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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