Cramps are sudden, involuntary, and localized contractions of a muscle with a visible or palpable hardening of the muscle. Cramps are most commonly seen in the leg muscles, especially in the calves. They are painful and last usually few minutes. A leg cramp is sometimes known as “Charley horse” among public. Some people may experience it nighttime, which is called “nocturnal leg cramp”.
Potential contributing factors:
1) Strenuous exercise and muscle fatigue.
3) Electrolyte imbalances, especially magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium.
4) Nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin B group.
5) Medications: statins, corticosteroids, diuretics, birth control pills, and medications for high blood pressure.
6) Abnormal anatomy of the lower extremity, for example, flat feet.
7) Alcohol abuse.
8) Medical conditions: low function thyroid, diabetes, kidney failure, Addison’s disease, Parkinson`s disease, hypoglycemia, restless leg syndrome, varicose veins, and multiple sclerosis (MS).
Immediate Approach to Relieve Cramp:
1) Stretch the affected muscle.
2) Apply direct compression to the cramp.
3) Apply cold compress to reduce pain.
4) Massage the affected muscle with lavender oil.
5) Apply heat post – cramp.
Recommended Dietary Changes:
1) Avoid or at least decrease your intake of alcohol, coffee, soft drinks, and salt.
2) Drink plenty of water: at least 2 – 3 liters throughout the day.
3) Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
4) Eat more of foods high in potassium: tomato juice, beet greens, dates, raisins, legumes, tuna fish, papaya and plantain. Also see “Potassium”.
5) Eat more of foods high in magnesium: dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, legumes, seeds, nuts especially almonds, pecans and Brazilian nuts. Also see “Magnesium”.
6) Eat more of foods high in calcium: dairy products. Also see “Calcium”.
7) Have chamomile tea.
1) Magnesium: 600 mg a day (400 mg at bedtime and 200 mg in the morning).
2) Calcium: 1000-1500 mg a day.
3) Potassium: 100 – 300 mg a day.
4) Co –Enzyme Q 10: 300 mg a day. This may help with muscle aches and cramps resulted from statins medications.
5) Glycine: 1000 – 2000 mg a day. This amino acid has an inhibitory effect on the nervous system.
6) Vitamin B – Complex: A high potency product.
Abazar Habibinia, MD, DFN, CSDT
Executive Director of Canadian Academy of Sports Nutrition
Updated on November 11, 2019