Leg Cramps
October 12, 2004 12:42 AM   Subscribe

[CrampFilter] My son woke up again last night with cramp in his legs...its painful for him, and disturbing for us...(morecrammedinside)

He wakes up 2 or 3 times a month, with very painful cramp in his legs...we've tried increasing many of the food things recommended, typically foods that are high in potassium - bananas, oranges (including juice), milk and tomatoes. He eats a very healthy diet (more thanks to his mother than me), and takes a basic Vitamin C tablet each day during the autumn and winter to ward off colds.

The cramps are always in his legs...and wake him (and us) up in a lot of pain during the small hours...we end up rubbing his legs until he can get back to sleep, sometimes an hour later.

I'd love to be able to stop them for him and us...does anyone have any surefire remedies for cramp....either instant when it happens....or better still, prevention.
posted by mattr to Health & Fitness (25 answers total)
 
Does he have a pediatrician? Sounds like nocturnal leg cramps? if the pediatrician's advice can't solve anything, maybe request a referral to a sleep specialist?

Either way, you should start keeping a log of when they're happening--potentially record the diet and exercise the day before?
posted by gramcracker at 12:55 AM on October 12, 2004


Some people swear by quinine, usually in the form of a glass of tonic water.

Also make sure there's no cold air blowing on his legs and he doesn't lay on them in such a way that the blood flow to them is cut off for long periods of time.

Try some stretching before bedtime.
posted by kindall at 12:55 AM on October 12, 2004


How old is he? Because if he's otherwise healthy, these sound a lot like growing pains. If that's what they are, you can't prevent them, only ease them.

Heat is a good thing. Elevate his legs, wrap them in an electric blanket. That, and baby aspirin was the only thing that helped mine. Along with the massaging you're already doing, this should help a lot.

I hope the poor little guy grows out of them soon. They are suprisingly painful.
posted by melissa may at 12:58 AM on October 12, 2004


I should amend to say you could maybe prevent them by making sure he does stretches before he sleeps per kindall's suggestion, especially after he's had a particularly active/athletic day. And to apologize for my surprisingly bad spelling.
posted by melissa may at 1:03 AM on October 12, 2004


My younger brother, who is an amazing athlete in several different sports, a very healthy eater, incredibly fit, etc. got these almost daily nonstop from ages 13-18. They were so bad that, tough guy though he is from me beating him up all throughout his childhood, he was reduced to tears and screaming more often than not. For that reason he had to sleep in the basement and mom spent many nights rubbing his legs.

My parents tried everything up to and including scans (I think MRI?). No luck. In the end he just had to outgrow it. If you do end up finding a solution, I'd be curious.
posted by Ryvar at 1:12 AM on October 12, 2004


Tonic water, as kindall said, is a great solution.

However, you're going to need to down a full glass of it, and the stuff is really horrid tasting.
posted by shepd at 1:12 AM on October 12, 2004


Thanks for these so far, we have tried a doctor and he has so far recommended all the nutrition type things...

I should have mentioned by the way - that he is four....very very active...both during the day, and in his sleep....he moves a lot in his bed.
posted by mattr at 1:26 AM on October 12, 2004


wrap them in an electric blanket...

I don't know how effective the warmth idea is - a friend of mine soothes stomach cramps this way, but may I suggest a good old fashioned hot water bottle? Electric blankets really freak me out...
posted by nthdegx at 2:05 AM on October 12, 2004


>Electric blankets really freak me out...

They do start 2 fires per day, however, those have always been caused by extremely worn and damaged blankets. Clearly, any appliance so old it's sparking should be thrown out or repaired.

As far as cancer risks and other EMF voodoo goes, relax, you're perfectly safe (yeah, that's for women and breast cancer, however, household power based EMF fields in general are safe, anyways).

The biggest danger with a young child and an electric blanket, IMHO, would be liquids entering the blanket, and the child setting the blanket temperature high enough they manage to burn themselves in their sleep.
posted by shepd at 3:22 AM on October 12, 2004


I had this problem when I was a teenager. First, go to your doctor and get the appropriate checks. When I did this my doctor basically said I needed to replace my electrolytes because of the amount of exercise I got. I used a bit more salt (prior to that I didn't salt anything) and if I really exercised hard would have a banana or something. I still occasionaly get bad leg cramps (and stomach muscle cramps, and calf cramps and pec cramps and bicep cramps) if I don't watch my electrolyte intake after I get back from the gym.

Maybe none of this applies in his case, but that's why you go see the doctor.
posted by substrate at 4:39 AM on October 12, 2004


I used to have the same problems, which my parents chalked up to growing pains. And man did my legs hurt like crazy! On long car rides, they would cramp right up. It felt like my toes were curling up it hurt so bad. Also, sometimes, right after doing too much exercise, they would cramp right up. One time, it was so bad, that I passed out in a restaurant.
posted by jasonspaceman at 5:11 AM on October 12, 2004


I was shown a simple method last year which works very well for me. I don't know whether you would actually be able to get a four year old, who is in that amount of pain to try it, but just in case it helps him, here goes.

If you could get him to stand on one leg until he has his balance, he has to then gradually transfer his weight to both feet and then when he feels able, transfer his full weight onto the cramped leg. As the cramp eases off he should try walking slowly until he is sure its completely gone.

Although this method hurts just as much as having your leg rubbed, I've found it works much faster than anything else I've tried and leaves no muscle soreness the next day. Hope it works for him too.
posted by Tarrama at 5:32 AM on October 12, 2004


I really feel for your kid, I used to regularly get murderous calf cramps.

Minding my hydration, potassium, and salt didn't help much. Two things ended them:

Stretching the calf muscles. No special exercises or regimens are necessary, occasionally flexing your foot upward until you feel a good stretch while seated, standing, in bed, or walking is enough to greatly reduce episodes of cramping.

Most importantly, never sleep with your toes pointed downward. Keep your feet perpendicular to your legs. Always. If you sleep on your stomach, hang your feet off the end of the bed, or perch them up on your toes, or sleep splay-footed with your feet on their sides. Hook your toes into the mattress or sheets if you must, whatever it takes to keep them from drifting below the perpendicular.

The least benefit you get from doing these two things is a lengthening of the time between the first twinge and inevitability, so you can thwart a cramp if you're quick enough (If your son hasn't figured it out yet, straightening the leg and stretching the calf by pointing the toes upward toward the torso is what he needs to do. It'll feel wrong and scary at first, countering the impending muscle-tearing contraction by pulling the other way will seem like a surefire way to snap his tendons like rubberbands, but it works).

In the 10 years I've been doing these two things, I've headed off incipient cramps less than a dozen times and never had a full-blown attack. I hope they can give some relief to your son, poor guy.
posted by nikzhowz at 8:07 AM on October 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


Most importantly, never sleep with your toes pointed downward. Keep your feet perpendicular to your legs. Always. If you sleep on your stomach, hang your feet off the end of the bed, or perch them up on your toes, or sleep splay-footed with your feet on their sides. Hook your toes into the mattress or sheets if you must, whatever it takes to keep them from drifting below the perpendicular.

I need to take note of that as I occasionally wake up with ridiculously painful cramps in my calves. I can confirm "flexing your foot upward" is a good way of quickly alleviating the pain - although as it actually hurts more this way to begin with, it might be difficult to convince a young child.
posted by nthdegx at 8:24 AM on October 12, 2004


I had lots of growing pain cramps in junior high, and I second Tarrama's advice -- if they're leg cramps, get him on his feet. Blood will rush to the muscles, helping to alleviate the cramp.
posted by o2b at 8:52 AM on October 12, 2004


When I was a kid, my doctor said to try potassium and it has always done the trick. Nothing else kept them from happening in the first place.
posted by lobakgo at 8:56 AM on October 12, 2004


!!

CALCIUM is great for cramps. A bowl of cereal before bed might do it, or even ice cream.

(Ya see, the chemical formula for the production of ATP and ADP requires calcium ions. RELAXING your muscles is an active, not passive, process that requires energy, thus uses calcium ions. Cramps (clenched, unrelaxed muscles) are often related to calcium deficiency. By all rights I should have carpal tunnel and/or tendonitis by now, but I blame my lack of it on stretching and calcium.)
posted by Shane at 9:31 AM on October 12, 2004


Oh, by the way, bananas will give him potassium and some calcium. Banana split, anyone? And potassium helps lessen urinary calcium loss.

/experienced w/ cramps
posted by Shane at 9:34 AM on October 12, 2004


Tonic water, as kindall said, is a great solution.

However, you're going to need to down a full glass of it, and the stuff is really horrid tasting.


i feel obliged to point out that tonic water is far from horrid tasting, particularly when you mix it with an appropriate amount of gin

posted by fishfucker at 9:35 AM on October 12, 2004


when the four-year-old in my house (well, she's not four anymore) had this problem, we combated it with a banana snack or a glass of milk before bed. we had some success.

it also helped if we didn't put her in the bath right before bed. no idea why, but she seemed to get them less often if she had the bath before dinner, after running around all day.

we also tried to teach her simple ways of stretching if a cramp woke her up. we had less success with that, but it did help her worry less before bed if she had a plan, just in case. fortunately, she grew out of them.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:52 AM on October 12, 2004


leg cramps can be an indication that the proportion of calcium to magnesium in the system is out of whack. you might try giving him a magnesium tablet on the nights he has pain -- it is pretty fast-acting. but i would journal his diet and take him to the doctor to get to the root cause of the problem.
posted by macinchik at 10:33 AM on October 12, 2004


The biggest danger with a young child and an electric blanket, IMHO, would be liquids entering the blanket...

Sorry -- I didn't mean to suggest you should warm his legs this way and not observe him. I assume you're up with him until he drifts off, and I think any new electric blanket would be safe till then. And you can place the controller well away from him so he can't turn it up too high.

Water bottles are nice for comfort but don't retain a consistent temperature. You want medium, steady heat to soothe him. Any stretching and positioning he can do at 4 is ideal, but if he's unable to do what you say when he's in that kind of pain, having some passive measures like heat and aspirin might help him more.
posted by melissa may at 10:34 AM on October 12, 2004


This is going sound stupid, but believe me it works on all calf and foot cramps:

Upon pain, immediately pinch the area just above your upper lip between your thumb and forefinger. (Or, if your fingers are dirty, just press this same area above your lip against your gum.) Apparently there's some kind of acupressure point here that eases the pain. I learned this in a Sports Illustrated article in the 1960s -- it doesn't end cramps, but it absolutely relieves the pain.
posted by sixpack at 10:41 AM on October 12, 2004


Thanks everyone, theres plenty of advice here we will try...Mrs Mattr was impressed with the care shown in the answers...

Even yours FF!
posted by mattr at 12:50 PM on October 12, 2004


"Growing pains" and calf cramps are 2 completely different things.

If the calf is seizing up, like a charley horse, flex the toes to the knee to uncramp the muscle, and supplement the diet with calcium (not milk product!), making sure you're also balancing magnesium; about half the mgs of the calcium. It's pretty easy to find a good tasting single supplement that has calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium in the right proportions.

If you're talking about growing pains, and I think you are, then remove all dairy from the diet. Works wonders!
posted by Feisty at 9:02 PM on October 12, 2004


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