Oh my gosh....I hear you and your mom's pain!!! I used to get similar
types of muscle cramps regularly but they have since subsided.
However, just the other night, I got a horrendous charlie horse-type
muscle cramp while I was sleeping. It woke me right up and all I could
do was form my mouth into a silent scream, frantically massaging my
calf and foot until it went away. This time, I the cause was most
apparent. I had been on a 15+ hour international flight. I had
consumed very little water and had been sitting for most of an entire
It seems that once this type of cramping occurs, it can happen almost
"habitually" - as if the muscle has a memory. When I used to have
regular calf cramping, it seemed as if the tiniest movements would
set them off and it was all I could do get through the pain until the
The Life Spring Healing Arts website has some helpful suggestions for
preventing leg cramps and alleviating them once they occur. I have
excerpted them below and will go into more detail in my answer.
Some suggestions for prevention:
"Stretch. A regular stretching program can relax muscles, decrease
tension and stiffness, and promote flexibility."
"Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can cause muscle tension. When you
feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated, so drink before you feel the
need. Dehydration is common and can cause many health issues."
"Exercise regularly, especially cardiovascular exercise. Increased
circulation and blood flow nourishes muscles and eases tension."
"Supplement your diet with calcium, magnesium, potassium, or zinc, or
eat foods rich in those nutrients. Tight muscles cannot release
without these substances in your body."
*** Please note - the following recommendations are no substitute for
a medical checkup. It is important that your mother's physician rule
out circulatory problems which may also cause of leg cramping.
MASSAGE TO ALLEVIATE PAIN - THEN STRETCH FOR PREVENTION
From "Don't Let A Cramp Cut Your Run Short!," by Julie Donnelly
"To begin with, DO NOT try to stretch it out until you help the muscle
complete it's severe contraction. This may seem like the exact
opposite thing to do, but let's talk about the logic of the body."
"When your muscle goes into a severe cramp, sometimes called a
"charlie horse", the muscle is trying to contract violently. Muscles
will never stop a contraction in the middle, it has an "all or
nothing" system. A muscle fiber contracts fully, or not at all. If you
try to stretch it out, while the muscle is trying to contract, you
will tear fibers. You need to assist the muscle in its contraction
BEFORE you can stretch it without injury."
"When the muscle goes into this cramp, tightly grab your calf with
your hands: one hand at the top of the calf, just below the knee; and
the other hand at the bottom of the muscle, at the top of the achilles
tendon just above the ankle. Now, help the muscle complete it's
contraction by pushing your hands together. This will be extremely
painful, but only for a few seconds. Next, just release your hands,
and then replace them in the same positions. Now, again push your
hands together, this time it won't hurt nearly as much. You are now
assisting any last fibers to finish their contraction. Take a few
breathes, get back your oxygen that was lost while you were breathing
heavily during the pain."
"Now you can safely stretch the muscle. Begin by rubbing the muscle
with arnica gel and then squeezing your calf, like you were squeezing
bread dough. I always recommend to my athletes that they have a tube
of arnica gel in their pouches. Arnica gel can be bought in any good
health food store, and is a homeopathic remedy for bruised muscles. It
is amazing how quickly arnica gel will help the muscle heal."
"After you have put on the arnica gel, and quickly squeezed the muscle
(which brings blood into the area and also helps to heal the muscle),
go into the gastroc and soleus stretches. I've had runners tell me
that since they have begun using arnica gel during, and after, the
race that they have a much faster healing process than ever before."
(Sources for Arnica Gel can be found online, or the product might be
available at your local drugstore)
Calf Stretch from the Navy Health Book
"You can stretch your calf muscles by standing on an elevated surface,
such as a step or a large dictionary, with the ball of your foot. Then
gently press your heel towards the floor, until you feel a gentle
stretch in your calf muscle. Hold this position for 30 seconds, relax,
and repeat again. You can also do this stretch with your knee bent, to
provide focus to the lower portion of your calf muscles."
A slightly different version (with picture) that stretches both
components of the calf muscle can be found on the dcdoctor website:
Calf and Hamstring Stretch from the Cool Running website:
If your mom finds it easier lie on the floor, she can do the
hamstring (and calf) stretch on the following page. To make sure she
gets a good stretch in the calf, she needs to make a strong effort to
push her heel toward the ceiling. (I find a belt easier than a towel)
"5. Hamstring Stretch - Lie down with one leg straight up in the
air, the other bent with foot flat on the ground. Loop a towel over
the arch of the lifted foot, and gently pull on the towel as you push
against it with your foot. Push only to the point where your muscles
contract. Stretch both legs."
(You can get a better stretch in the calf by relaxing the leg, and
placing the belt or towel under the ball of your foot, then pulling it
SUPPLEMENTS AND FLUIDS
From "Calf Cramps" (this is an older cached web page and the URL might
not work) http://22.214.171.124/search?q=cache:d6jLm7fXrT0J:dknet.lineone.net/reference/encyclopaedia/naturalhealth/ailments_c_calf_cramps.html+calcium+for+calf+cramps+&hl=en
* increasing your intake of calcium may help avoid calf cramps. Good
sources of calcium are: milk, cheese and yoghurt, dark green leafy
vegetables, broccoli, canned fish, cooked dried beans and peas, almond
butter and sesame products.
* vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium. It builds up
in the skin on exposure to the sun, and is found in vitamin
D-fortified milk, liver, egg yolk, cod liver oil and fish.
* for night calf cramps, vitamin E supplements have been found to
help. Increase your vitamin E intake by eating wheatgerm, sunflower
seeds, soya beans, olive oil, eggs and parsley. Alternatively, take a
300 iu vitamin E supplement daily.
From "Leg Cramps."
"People can get cramps in their calf muscles due to a few reasons. The
first might be a failure to stretch adequately before and after
exercising. Muscle cramps might also develop from simple overexertion,
a case of pushing yourself too far, too fast. The third possibility is
an insufficient intake of fluids. Staying hydrated is essential to
keeping your electrolytes in balance, and allowing your muscles to
contract and relax. The balance of electrolytes in the body, i.e.
sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and
carbon dioxide rely on adequate levels of hydration. So even though
cramps can be related to low levels of certain minerals such as
calcium and potassium, supplementing your diet with these minerals
must be done in combination with keeping yourself hydrated."
"Finally, cramps in the calf muscles either during exercise or at
night can be the result of insufficient mineral intake. Most commonly,
cramps can be avoided by increasing your intake of calcium, potassium,
and magnesium. Both calcium and magnesium can be taken in the form of
a supplement, but it is recommended that potassium levels be increased
through the intake of more fruits and vegetables. People with certain
medical conditions may be at risk in taking potassium supplements.
Potassium can be found in cantaloupes, bananas, tomatoes, grapefruits
and orange juice. These minerals should be part of a person's daily
diet, as it will not help to simply take a supplement before running,
or when cramps set in."
"If you are older, legs cramps could be due to decreasing circulation.
This is often accompanied by signs such as yellowed and thickened
toenails, cold or bluish feet, and decreased pulses in the feet and
"Stopping the Squeeze." Mother Nature.com
"Ask the Doc."
"Leg Cramps." Health Journal
More from Discovery Health
"The exact cause of muscle cramps is not well understood. They can
occur in any muscle at any time. Cramps occur most often in the
muscles of the leg or foot. They usually occur while playing sports,
exercising, or lying in bed. The calf muscle in the back of the lower
leg is a common place for nighttime cramps. These often occur after
"Tight muscles are more likely to cramp than flexible muscles that
have been stretched. A low level of physical fitness increases the
risk of muscle cramps. Overexertion and muscle fatigue also contribute
to cramping. Excess sweating or dehydration can deplete minerals in
the body. These minerals are important for good muscle function and
include sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Medications like diuretics or water pills can also lead to cramping
due to loss of sodium and potassium."
"What can be done to prevent the condition?
"Stretching the calf and other leg muscles improves flexibility. This
reduces the risk of cramps. Individuals who get nighttime calf cramps
should: · sleep on their sides · sleep with their toes pointed · not
tuck in their blankets and sheets too tightly. This can bend the toes
down and cause a cramp. · eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to
reduce the risk of mineral deficiencies. · drink plenty of water
before, during and after exercise to prevent dehydration, especially
during hot weather · wear comfortable shoes with good arch support to
helps prevent cramps."
How about a Banana for potassium?
From the "Calf Camps Thread"
"Also, try having a banana it is rich in Potassium and should help.
When I feel a cramp coming on I will generally have a banana in
addition to the one I have each day and drink at least 8 ounces of
water. I find it helps."
Or, banana and pressure on the calf?
"Exercise might have something to do with it, but it's probably diet
related. This is how it works in a nut; calcium makes muscles contract
and magnesium conteracts. So if you get too much calcium and not
enough magnesium you get cramps. It could also be dehydration. If you
don't drink enough water you increase your chances of getting a cramp.
Potassium is also good for cramps- bananas have potassium. Now here's
the part that will hopefully help you if/when you get a calf spasm-
don't contract your muscles. When you get a cramp, no matter how hard
it is, stretch your leg out as far as possible and put pressure on the
middle of the muscle. This stops it instantly. I found it's easiest to
use my other knee in the bed of my calf. Feels good too. Oh yeah, and
get a massage. Hope this has been helpful
MEDICAL ALTERNATIVES TO QUININE
While quinine has been know to help nocturnal cramps, there are other
alternatives. Personally, I recommend you help your mom get on the
right foot first with a healthy diet, lots of water and eloctrolyte
fluids (like gatorade), calcium/magnesium supplements and some daily
stretching. (have her check with her doctor or a good health food
store for supplement dosage recommendations). If these measures fail,
the following suggestions might help.
From "Nocturnal leg cramps." VOL 111 / NO 2 / FEBRUARY 2002 /
"Persistent or severe leg cramps often are treated with medication.
Quinine sulfate is considered the most effective drug, but it can have
unpredictable adverse effects and should be used with caution. (In
1995, the US Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of all
quinine-based over-the-counter preparations.) Alternative medications
include diphenhydramine hydrochloride, vitamin E, simple muscle
relaxants (such as meprobamate [Equanil, Miltown]), verapamil
hydrochloride (Calan, Isoptin, Verelan), chloroquine phosphate (Aralen
Phosphate), and hydroxychloroquine sulfate (Plaquenil Sulfate).
I hope the above information proves helpful. I know that regular
fluids and calcium citrate/magnesium capsules worked wonders for me.
Give the above suggestions a try for several weeks and please get back
to me. I would love to know that both you and your mom found some
preventing charlie horse
calf stretch to prevent charlie horse
calcium for calf cramps
quinine and leg cramps
fluid and calf cramps