Aging & ArthritisGeneral HealthPain



I have been meaning to write about this for over a year because I’ve been giving this advice on the phone, in the office and over the Internet, so it’s just time to put it down on paper. And someone on Facebook just messaged me about a treatment for cramps, so it’s time.

First let me define the kind of cramping I’m talking about and distinguish it from the cramps suffered by young athletes on the field. I’m talking about leg cramps experienced mainly at night by those over the age of forty. I’m talking about the cramps that suddenly make your foot look like the banned lotus blossom of Chinese foot binding. The cramps that make you fly out of your bed in the middle of the night, desperately trying to stretch the muscle that feels like it’s about to rip loose from your bone. The cramps that make you walk around your hallway looking like a velociraptor, the one claw sticking up in the air, the remainder of the foot hobbled and stumping around until the hold relaxes. Yeh. That cramp. If you know what I’m talking about, then this blog is for you.

Both my husband and I suffer from these kinds of cramps, and being physicians, we have searched the “scholarly” literature, trying to find some answer, even for our own personal woes. There is nothing of significance; no double-blind prospective study, no educated guess, no meta-analysis out there on the treatment, never mind the cure for this affront to human comfort and nightly peace of mind.

I thought I had come close when I found some garlic vinegar concoction on Amazon. For a couple of nights in a row, when I started to feel a cramp coming on, I would reach over and take a swig of that stuff. I bought a six pack of it. It works great in a salad, and that’s where it’s been relegated to at this point. The benefit was unfortunately, just coincidental.

I was standing in line next to a display of Emergen-C at the local pharmacy. I decided I needed to take more vitamin C and the tasty, fizzy concoction sounded better than chewing or swallowing a pill, so I bought some. About two weeks later I noted I had not had any cramps in a couple of weeks, and the Emergen-C was the only change in behavior I could think of. I actually tried to reach out to the company to tell them they had a cure for cramps when I suddenly went airborne out of my bed at 3:00 in the morning with an adductor cramp.

Let me tell you a little about adductor cramps. The adductors are the big group of muscles on the inside of your thighs which pull your legs together. When you get an adductor cramp, you come flying out of that bed, legs spread as wide as you can get them. You’re hobbling around like a fiddler crab, until that thing decides it wants to give up its hold and the whole time you’re wondering if it’s possible to die from pain. Just FYI, I don’t think you can die from pain. You can only wish you could.

Over time I began to look at the common denominators mentioned above. So football players aside, who gets cramps? Old people. When do they get cramps? At night.

What do old people have in common which could have something to do with cramping? Our circulation. Like many things, it ain’t what it used to be. Poorer circulation means maybe your tired, old, stiff muscles are deprived of something they need in order to stay relaxed when you stretch or move them.

And when do cramps occur? At night. In the evening.

And what happens in the evening? You begin a process of resting and in most cases taking off your shoes and maybe getting into a pair of shorts. All day you’ve been running around, mostly with shoes on. So your muscles stay used, stretched out and warmed up. In the evening you most likely slip off your shoes, and some of you might hike your legs up and watch a little TV or sit around and chat. The legs are exposed to the cold air and begin a slow process of cooling off. In an older person, this process is hard to reverse, and soon the calves and feet are cooled down to a point where the circulation is very sluggish. Now you are primed for a cramp.

I always like to think about the things I CAN change when I contemplate conservative treatment of various conditions. I can’t change my age. But maybe I can do something about my circulation.

So I started a process of preventing the cool down. I keep my feet in some kind of shoe, slipper or sock. There are two places in my house where I might spend a lot of time in the evenings: the room where I watch TV or play my guitar, and the place where I keep my computer. I have a little space heater in both of those rooms and I turn them on my feet if they start to feel cool. I have a small heating blanket which I position it at the very bottom of our bed. About an hour before bedtime I turn it on. So when I get in bed my feet stay nice and toasty. I have virtually eliminated cramps. My hubby too. Believe me, this has improved the quality of our sleep and therefore our lives!

One situation which proved my theory was the fact that I probably get the worst cramps when I stay in hotel rooms. This makes sense because in most hotel rooms the AC units blow cold air right across the bottom of the bed. The rooms get cold very quickly, and the place where you spend most of your time is propped up on the bed. If you’re not going to sleep, you’re just sprawled out on the bed reading, chatting, or watching TV. Unlike your home, the hotel bed just lends itself to being the place to hang out. The cool down process comes hard and fast. I now travel with my heating blanket and a pair of fat socks.

This has worked like a charm for my husband and me. If you are consistent with this preparation, I’m sure it will work for you! And I will have discovered a CURE, or at least a TREATMENT for cramps.

Stay warm my old friends.

  1. Deirdre

    Thank you for this. I have tried everything to relieve my nighttime leg cramps to no avail. Two weeks ago I found your article and started wearing some cozy alpaca wool socks to bed. I haven’t had a cramp since. This is big news! Fingers crossed this continues to work. Thank you again!

    1. Barbara

      That makes me so happy! Cramps are terrible things! I’m essentially cramp free. My husband too. Don’t forget to bring your socks with you when you travel. Put them on earlier in the evening rather than later. When I occasionally get cramps, it’s because I forgot to put on my socks or warm up the foot of my bed. Maybe I thought I was cured! Haha! No cure. Just an easy treatment!

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