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Leg Cramps (Night Cramps)

By Edward Kane

Leg cramps can be very painful and are fairly common. A leg cramp is a spasm that comes from a muscle in the leg. It usually occurs in one of the calf muscles below and behind the knee. Sometimes, the small muscles of the feet can be affected, as wells as the hands.

Typically, a cramp lasts a few minutes. In some cases, it lasts only seconds, but it can last for up to ten minutes.; The muscle may remain tender after a severe leg cramp for as long as 24 hours. Leg cramps usually occur when you are resting – most commonly at night when in bed (night cramps). They may awaken you from your sleep and can become a distressing condition if your sleep is regularly disturbed.

Many people experience an occasional leg cramp but they do appear to be more common in older people. Approximately, one out of three people, over the age of 60, have regular leg cramps.  This figure increases to around 50% for people over the age of 80.

There has been considerable uncertainty in the literature regarding the classification and nomenclature of muscle cramps. The term “cramp” is used to indicate a variety of clinical features of muscles, leading to its use as an imprecise “catch-all” term that includes stiffness, contractures and local pain. The cause is not known in most cases. However, working with high performing athletes has provided us with some insights into muscle function and the electrolytes that drive all muscle function.

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Sodium Closes (constricts) and Potassium Opens (relaxes)

In essence, the closing and relaxing of a muscle is dependent on the four mineral horseman of function, calcium (Ca), sodium (Na), magnesium (Mg), and potassium (K).  Sodium constricts and potassium relaxes, with Ca and Mg initiating each phase of the action.  If an individual is low in potassium, it appears that that singular event of low potassium can be sufficient to permit a cramp to occur. Without enough potassium available to complete the relaxing cycle, a random signal (or even a conscious one) to close by an out of balanced condition can leave almost any muscle in a locked position.

To understand sodium’s influence on the closing of a muscle and potassium’s role in engineering the reverse (the opening), it could be helpful, though somewhat macabre, to examine the procedure for executions.  Generally, the act of hanging was replaced by electrocution, which was in turn abandoned by the painless, yet highly efficient act, of an injection of a high concentrated solution of potassium.  Flooding the body with potassium forces all muscles to relax.  Eventually the concentration of potassium becomes so high that it dwarfs the normal balance with sodium, thereby restricting any ability to affect a normal muscle function.  The net result is to block the beating of the heart.  In effect the prisoner relaxes to death.

Essentially an execution by injection is the reverse of a cramp.  The execution is clearly an excess of potassium and the cramp appears to be the reverse.  The injection of potassium overwhelms the normal balance of sodium and robs it of its ability to initiate muscle function; the body cannot begin any function, you couldn’t even blink your eye.  The reverse of high sodium (or to be more precise, the absence of sufficient potassium) is an imbalance that sets up a condition for a cramp to occur.  The poor individual with insufficient potassium on hand may not be able to relax that muscle and must message or stretch the knotted jumble of muscle to force some potassium into the cells to turn off the tight cramping condition.

The potential cure for a cramp would logically be to have available sufficient stores of potassium.  However, magnesium also plays an important role in muscle function, so it is necessary to insure an adequate supply of magnesium.  Calcium is also important, but there is a ready supply from our storehouse of bone which appears to be sufficient for muscle function.   However, the supply of sufficient Ca and Mg as we age, is often insufficient, even though normal blood test results suggest there is enough.  But, that is a subject beyond this current discussion of cramps.

The true details concerning when and why a cramp may occur is still a mystery.  However, our work with a large number of athletes and our success with a concentrated electrolyte drink is worthy of investigation.  Check out the testimonials where you will find a large number of former “crampers” from many walks of life.  Their comments in their own words searching to find an answer to stop those peskycramps could hold your answer as well.

The information contained in this web site is for educational purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Inclusion here does not imply any endorsement or recommendation. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified medical provider for all medical problems prior to starting any new regiment.


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