Nothing wakes you up from a sound sleep faster, and in a righteous fighting mood, than a good old-fashioned charley horse paralyzing your muscles…
Well, maybe the sting of a fattail scorpion could rival that feeling.
But then, most of us don’t sleep in arid, sandy soils where the Androctonus do so roam.
On the other hand, as we age, we become more vulnerable to reoccurring cramps, which are the excessive firing of neurons in the spinal cord that control muscle contraction.
While the jarring pain of involuntary muscle contractions aren’t deadly like the sting of a fattail, we’d just as soon avoid cramps all the same.
Trouble is, there aren’t any ‘proven’ preventive solutions for stopping muscle cramps.
And, whimpering and crying for my mommy, like I sometimes do, doesn’t really work all that well…
Scientifically speaking, cramps are excessive firing of neurons in the spinal cord that control muscle contraction, (as previously noted). Yet, we just don’t know specifically why they happen…
There are four types of leg cramps: true cramps; tetany; contractures; and dystonic cramps.
This discussion covers generic muscle cramps without differentiation. If you’re interested in learning about the 4 different classes, click on the following blue link: 4 Types Of Ley Cramps
Possible Causes Of Muscle Cramp:
- Poor blood circulation
- Lack of potassium, calcium or magnesium
- Medications: diuretics, donepezil, statins, nifedipine and neostigmine
- Excessive exercise
- Lack of exercise
- Insufficient exercise warm-up or warm-down
- Standing, or sitting, in same position for extended time
- Alcohol abuse
- Hormonal imbalance
It’s probable that any one, or combinations of the above list, cause normal, random cramps. But, persistent, chronic muscle spasms, may signal an underlying, and sometimes a serious, health problem, i.e. time for testing by a medical professional.
Science Backed Muscle Cramp Prevention Treatments:
Uh, there ‘ain’t any!
I’m thinking there’s not enough profit incentive for researching and discovering treatments.
Generally cramps are infrequent, fairly short-lived, and despite hurting (almost) as badly as did Whitney Houston’s voice when she hit and extended, and extended, and extended, onto a high note, they’re tolerable. (Bless Whitney’s heart and may she rest in peace)
Researching for this post, I did find an interesting study that described a high-frequency spinal cord stimulation technique (SCS), developed for chronic back and leg pain, that incidentally prevented cramps, as well.
Yet, unless you suffer chronic and debilitating muscle spasms, the technique probably isn’t a practical solution. SCS Treatment Info
The American Academy of Neurology an association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals who take themselves quite seriously, had this to say about prevention:
Naftidrofuryl oxalate, diltiazem, and vitamin B complex can be considered possible treatments for muscle cramps…
Natfitdrofuryl oxalate is a drug that may enhance utilization of oxygen and glucose in peripheral vascular disease; however, it is not available in the U.S.
Diltiazem, a calcium channel blocker, slows the electrical current in the heart, which slows heart rate and normalizes heart rhythm. Vitamin B complex is a compound that contains many groups of vitamins the body requires in small amounts to remain healthy.
However, further research is needed on the safety and effectiveness of all of these therapies…”
Kinda hedging their bets, aren’t they?
Keeping with the spirit of academic speculation, the school of health at Harvard University offers the following suggestions as possible prevention of charlie horses:
- Vitamin B Complex
- Calcium Channel Blockers
Regular stretching exercises makes good sense generally. So have at it.
Likewise gobbling the occasional B vitamin.
Because of the known side effects, I’m a little leery fooling around with calcium channel blockers.
Possible side effects include: low blood pressure, lightheadedness, slowed heart rate and sleepiness, i.e. you pass out.
Plus, taking quinine is questionable because of its potential toxicity.
Quinine use can cause headaches, dizziness and hearing loss. It could also cause bleeding and blood clots.
(Personally, I wouldn’t consider channel blockers or quinine without consulting my doctor)
With, or without the scientific community’s stamp of approval, here’s an exercise that’s meant to prevent charlie horses: (I do this and it seems to help. Plus, it feels good)
Exercise that could help prevent cramps:
- Face wall from about a yard (3 feet)
- With your the soles of your feet flat, lean forward and place hands on wall
- Hold for 5 seconds- 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi…
- Return to standing position
- Repeat for 5 minutes
- For best results, repeat exercise 3 times daily
- Exercise For Your Calves
Summary of muscle cramp prevention: same old advice: drink plenty of liquids, regular exercise, eat less processed food, eat more fruits & vegetables, get plenty of sleep, hope for the best and don’t sweat the ‘stuff’ you can’t change…
If there aren’t any fail-safe methods that prevent leg cramps, charlie horses and muscle spasms, how do we stop the pain that zaps us with its blistering lightening strike?
How To Stop The Pain From Muscle Cramps:
- Stretch and rub the epicenter of the cramping muscle (the raised knot)
- Stand on it
- Stretch and bend the affected foot toward your knee
- Jump up and down
- Walk around on your heels
- Cover with heating pad or heated cloth, or:
- Cover the cramping muscle with an ice pack, or cold compress
- Take a mild pain killer
Those are standard, go-to remedies, and each will work, at least somewhat, according to your particular situation.
And, we should leave it with them.
We’ve come too far to not look at some of the kooky, ‘off-the-grid’ theories for stopping the pain, oh the pain…
Unusual Ways To Stop Charley Horse Pain:
- Rub a paste, made of tumeric and coconut oil, onto the offending muscle
- Pull the big toe towards knee with the heel of the other foot while lying down and will don’t release till muscle relaxes
- Rub a combination of lavender oil and olive oil on the spasm area
- Pickle juice. Drink it, don’t rub it in
- Bar of soap between the sheets
- Massage vinegar into cramp location
- Rolled up towel, or a small pillow, under the back of knees
- Copper rings on both big toes
- Raw Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar, drink it to stop cramp attack
- 1-2 tablespoons of black strap molasses
- A teaspoon of ordinary baking soda in a glass of water
- Walk on a cold tile floor
- Place a black domino between your big toe
- Swallow a tablespoon of French’s yellow mustard
- Dissolve a spoon full of sugar in your mouth
- Rub alcohol into the skin of the leg as soon as you feel a cramp coming
- Dissolve 1/3 teaspoon of salt under tongue
- Take the hand of the opposite side of the cramped leg, and simultaneously pull and pinch the ear lobe on the same side of the cramped leg
- Pinch your bottom lip as hard as you can for 10-15 seconds
Fun stuff, right? But, enough already!
Summary: Charley Horses, Leg/Calf Cramps, Muscle Spasms:
They’re unexpected. They hurt. The pain goes away. Cause: unknown. Prevention: healthy lifestyle – probably.
I sometimes get cramps in my calves, feet and toes.
Mine seem to happen in series and can usually be traced back to something like sitting too long at a Texas Hold’em poker table; standing too long on a hard surface; exercising without replacing electrolytes soon enough, and those kinda things.
Stretching and massaging the affected muscle usually stops the pain.
Generally though, cramps are a temporary inconvenience that a balanced lifestyle will keep at a minimum.
Last word: When nothing else helps, you can always cry for your mommy…
Bonus Resource: Natural Remedies to Help You Recover from Common Illnesses
Muscle Cramps Spasms and Charley Horses: