With the World Cup in full swing (GO U.S.A.!!), we will be witnessing lots of physically fit, strong men get taken down by a leg cramp. I am sympathetic. When I was enormously pregnant with my first child, I woke up screaming almost every night. Sometimes, it was because my sleeping brain conjured up nightmarish images of Sigourney Weaver “giving birth” to an alien, but more often, it was from the intense pain of calf cramps. The suddenness and intensity with which lower extremity muscle cramps comes on could bring Vin Diesel to his knees.
Why do they occur, how can you prevent, and how can you make them go away fast?
– Pregnancy, because of diminished stores of minerals like magnesium and calcium.
– Dehydration, which decreases blood flow to your muscles.
– Overuse from exercise or injury.
– Certain medical conditions which decrease blood flow to the lower extremities.
– Some medications, including birth control pills and diuretics.
– Standing for a long time or maintaining an awkward position.
– Avoid Pregnancy and when that’s not possible, avoid dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids and avoid those with caffeine which will worsen dehydration.
– Maintain a healthy diet with foods rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium.
– Stretch every day.
– Do not increase the intensity of your workout suddenly.
– Don’t wear high heels for extended periods of time.
– My best advice is to move your other leg. The goal is to get more blood flowing to the effected muscle. It is so painful to move the cramped leg or foot. Moving the other one will tell your brain to send more blood to both legs.
– As hard as it may be, stand up and try to walk around. Especially if you are pregnant, use care when putting pressure on your legs, as there is a risk the cramped leg can give out causing a fall. Hold onto something and start slow.
– Apply gentle massage, or better yet, have your partner do it for you.
– If the cramp persists, try warm water.
– For the ache after the intense pain has passed, Advil or Tylenol and stretching should do the trick.
If you are prone to cramping, focus on prevention. If that doesn’t work, it has been my experience the louder you yell, the more sympathy you will get. If you have to suffer the pain, you may as well let it work for you.