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

    |

    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

Can Plant-based Diets Be Unhealthy?

Posted September 10, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

plant-based diets vegetablesPlant-based diets have become the “Golden Boys” of the diet world. They are the diets most often recommended by knowledgeable health and nutrition professionals. I’m not talking about all the “Dr. Strangeloves” who pitch weird diets in books and the internet. I am talking legitimate experts who have spent their life studying the impact of nutrition on our health.

Certainly, there is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the claim that plant-based diets are healthy. Going on a plant-based diet can help you lower blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol and triglycerides. People who consume a plant-based diet for a lifetime weigh less and have decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But, can a plant-based diet be unhealthy? Some people consider a plant-based diet to simply be the absence of meat and other animal foods. Is just replacing animal foods with plant-based foods enough to make a diet healthy?

Maybe not. After all, sugar and white flour are plant-based food ingredients. Fake meats of all kinds abound in our grocery stores. Some are very wholesome, but others are little more than vegetarian junk food. If you replace animal foods with plant-based sweets, desserts, and junk food, is your diet really healthier?

While the answer to that question seems obvious, very few studies have asked that question. Most studies on the benefits of plant-based diets have compared population groups that eat a strictly plant-based diet (Seventh-Day Adventists, vegans, or vegetarians) with the general public. They have not looked at variations in plant food consumption within the general public. Nor have they compared people who consume healthy and unhealthy plant foods.

This study (H Kim et al, Journal of the American Heart Association, 8:e012865, 2019) was designed to fill that void.

 

How Was The Study Done?

plant-based diets studyThis study used data collected from 12,168 middle aged adults in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study between 1987 and 2016.

The participant’s usual intake of foods and beverages was assessed by trained interviewers using a food frequency questionnaire at the time of entry into the study and again 6 years later.

Participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they consumed 66 foods and beverages of a defined serving size in the previous year. Visual guides were provided to help participants estimate portion sizes.

The participant’s adherence to a plant-based diet was assessed using four different well-established plant-based diet scores. For the sake of simplicity, I will include 3 of them in this review.

  • The PDI (Plant-Based Diet Index) categorizes foods as either plant foods or animal foods. A high PDI score means that the participant’s diet contains more plant foods than animal foods. A low PDI score means the participant’s diet contains more animal foods than plant foods.
  • The hPDI (healthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “healthy” plant foods. A high hPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) and low in animal foods.
  • The uPDI (unhealthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “unhealthy” plant foods. A high uPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) and low in animal foods.

For statistical analysis the scores from the various plant-based diet indices were divided into 5 equal groups. In each case, the group with the highest score consumed the most plant foods and least animal foods. The group with the lowest score consumed the least plant foods and the most animal foods.

The health outcomes measured in this study were heart disease events, heart disease deaths, and all-cause deaths. Again, for the sake of simplicity, I will only include 2 of these outcomes (heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths) in this review. The data on deaths were obtained from state death records and the National Death Index. (Yes, your personal information is available on the web even after you die.)

 

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

plant-based diets reduce heart deathsThe participants in this study were followed for an average of 25 years.

The investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years and compared people with the highest intake of plant foods to people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods. The results were:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

What Else Did The Study Show?

The investigators made a couple of other interesting observations:

  • The association of the overall diet with heart disease and all-cause deaths was stronger than the association of individual food components. This underscores the importance of looking at the effect of the whole diet on health outcomes rather than the “magic” foods you hear about on Dr. Strangelove’s Health Blog.
  • Diets with the highest amount of healthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of carbohydrates, plant protein, fiber, and micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Diets with the highest amount of unhealthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of calories and carbohydrates and lower intake of fiber and micronutrients.

The last two observations may help explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets.

 

Can Plant-Based Diets Be Unhealthy?

plant-based diets unhealthy cookiesNow, let’s return to the question I asked at the beginning of this article: “Can plant-based diets be unhealthy?” Although some previous studies have suggested that unhealthy plant-based diets might increase the risk of heart disease, this study did not show that.

What this study did show was that an unhealthy plant-based diet was no better for you than a diet containing lots of red meat and other animal foods.

If this were the only conclusion from this study, it might be considered a neutral result. However, this result clearly contrasts with the data from this study and many others showing that both plant-based diets in general and healthy plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths compared to animal-based diets.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

There is one other subtle message from this study. This study did not compare vegans with the general public. Everyone in the study was the general public. Nobody in the study was consuming a 100% plant-based diet.

For example:

  • The group with the highest intake of plant foods consumed 9 servings per day of plant foods and 3.6 servings per day of animal foods.
  • The group with the lowest intake of plant foods consumed 5.4 servings per day of plant foods and 5.6 servings per day of animal foods.

In other words, you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study analyzed the effect of consuming plant foods on heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths over a 25-year period.

When the investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

A more subtle message from the study is that you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet. The people in this study were not following some special diet. The only difference was that some of the people in this study ate more plant foods and others more animal foods.

For more details on the study, 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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