I need this to stop
July 31, 2021 5:08 PM   Subscribe

Twice in the last ten days I have been woken up in the middle of the night with violent calf cramps in BOTH legs. I don't want this to keep happening. Help.

The cramps are so bad that I literally howl and cry in pain, and they are so debilitating that I cannot even manage to stretch my feet to combat the cramp - the muscle spasm is so strong that I literally can't flex my feet on my own and if I move to reach my toes the cramp gets worse. My SO has to come over to my side of the bed and stretch my muscles for me, and even still it takes a LONG time for the cramp to go away. If I try to walk after the cramp dissipates I feel very shakey and unsteady on me feet. And my calves are sore for the rest of the day.

It's so fucking painful, and it not only wakes me up, it wakes up my SO. He says that it's not my crying in pain that wakes him up - the muscle spasm is so strong that it jolts the covers and that's what wakes him up.

Why is this happening and how can I make it stop?

Pertinent details: we are currently living in a hotel waiting for a closing date on our new house. The hotel mattress is significantly softer than our one at home and so sleeping in general is super uncomfortable. On top of that, I am commuting 70 minutes to and from work by car every day (my commute will reduce to 30 minutes when we move into the house). We can't move into a different hotel bc my SO literally works in senior management at this hotel and they are giving us this room comped as part of his relo package.

So my sleeping and driving arrangements aren't going to change for at least another three weeks. But I don't know if this is related to the mattress or the commute - I suspect a vitamin/mineral deficiency. The room we are in has no kitchenette so we are limited to takeout or anything we can microwave or toast bc we brought those two appliances with us, so we are definitely not eating our normal diet and also just not eating healthy.

Should I take a vitamin supplement? I already take Vitamin D and Vitamin B12. What supplement (s) should I take? I cannot have another cramping episode like this, it really fucks me up. I have a hard time going back to sleep and the most recent one was so bad that I felt like I was in shock, all sweaty and short of breath and catatonic. It's bad. Bad bad bad. Please advise.
posted by nayantara to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Magnesium, calcium and potassium are all linked to leg cramping - it depends on your personal deficiencies, but lots of americans are dietarily deficient in magnesium, so I would at least add that one right away. My husband gets leg cramping, and it goes away when he takes 500 mg daily of a combined-type magnesium supplement (this one says "Magnesium (oxide, malate, glycerophospate)"
posted by euphoria066 at 5:14 PM on July 31, 2021 [24 favorites]

You haven't said anything about how much water you drink. I think my husband gets leg cramps if he is dehydrated. But there is also this

"New research has revealed drinking electrolytes instead of pure water can help prevent muscle cramps. If you reach for water when a muscle cramp strikes, you might want to think again. New research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) has revealed drinking electrolytes instead of pure water can help prevent muscle cramps."

Found here
posted by cda at 5:19 PM on July 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

I learned the hard way that too much green tea can cause this problem.
posted by Dolley at 5:19 PM on July 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

Caffeine correlated around 4/5 with my leg cramps.
posted by gregoreo at 5:26 PM on July 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

What is your "going to sleep" ritual?

I sometimes have this problem, but it's a part of the food and medicine I took. I changed my diet and it hadn't recurred.

For a "quick fix", try a banana with your dinner. Maybe, maybe not.

Also, I find that keeping your legs in a tensed position (basically anything except "limp") may trigger such attacks. I think I started a cramp or two when I tried to stretch in bed by pointing my toes down and must have triggered something with the stretching and a cramp started in my calf muscle. I think I mitigated it (yes, it hurts like a m-----f---er) by bending my knee so my calf has some pressure on it from my thigh, with help of my hands and tried to relax the leg, and it usually goes away in in 5-10 seconds. YMMV. I then gingerly stretch out my leg and lay back down.
posted by kschang at 5:27 PM on July 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This used to happen to me, usually only when I slept in a hotel...after a while I realized it was due to how tight the sheets had been tucked in at the foot of the bed, and the fact that I was a back sleeper. Basically the constant tension from taught sheets on my toes flexed my foot/ankle/calves and led to the exact type of horrendous cramps you are describing. I began untucking the sheets and sleeping on my side and the problem was gone immediately.
posted by 777 at 5:27 PM on July 31, 2021 [23 favorites]

This says if you drink too much water or take diuretics you could deplete your electrolytes which will cause cramping

"Mineral Depletion: An imbalance of electrolytes, such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium can lead to muscle cramps. Overhydration or the use of diuretics can deplete the electrolytes in your system and lead to an imbalance."

Found here
posted by cda at 5:30 PM on July 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I take magnesium for leg cramps; it helps a lot. Add some potassium and calcium.
posted by theora55 at 5:33 PM on July 31, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I used to get these regularly and a doctor recommended I boost my electrolytes -- "eat more pickles," in particular. I added some mini-gherkins to my usual lunch plate and I swear that actually helped.

Also, it *sucks* big time, but I found that the fastest way to ease the pain when it was happening was to stand up (carefully). Putting weight on my legs helped to "reset" the spasm faster than any stretching did.
posted by saramour at 5:36 PM on July 31, 2021 [10 favorites]

Well, you can try the Calm Magnesium supplement, which you can drink in a coffee cup after microwaving the water for it. It might help, but won't hurt. They come in little packets and you pour hot water over them.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:42 PM on July 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 2nding saramour here; putting weight on the leg, i.e. using gravity to get the blood moving to the cramping place, takes many agonizing seconds away from the cramp. I just mistyped crap. Yup, these suck so, so much, my condolences.
posted by Melismata at 5:44 PM on July 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

I used to have this, my primary care physician prescribed 5 mg nightly of an Rx I won't name since IANAD. It solved it for good (or else it acted as an effective placebo). I imagine if you ask yours they will know what was prescribed. Just FWIW.
posted by forthright at 5:48 PM on July 31, 2021

I bet that the hotel has a firmer mattress somewhere. Switch to that room ! And yeah, pickles and bananas
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 5:49 PM on July 31, 2021 [3 favorites]

Interesting that pickles were mentioned. People on my cancer board swear by drinking pickle juice at the time of a cramp. Don’t know if it would work prophylactically.

I also bought this slant board to stretch my calves after using it in physical therapy. I stand on it for 60 seconds at a time during the day, and I think it helps. There are cheaper versions.
posted by FencingGal at 5:55 PM on July 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If your husband wants to help alleviate the cramping he should lightly hit the cramping muscle. Do not stretch a muscle that is cramping!!! The motion of hitting, also known as “tapotement” in the massage trade, will basically tell the muscles to stop contracting. I don’t have any tips on how to prevent them.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:04 PM on July 31, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Cramps that severe happened to me when my potassium was low. They suck and I'm sorry this is happening to you. If it continues even after adding some potassium rich foods to your diet, you should really see a doctor and have them do a routine CBC blood test. An urgent care doctor can even write an order this test, if you don't have time to wait for your PCP or if you don't have a primary. Low potassium can be dangerous and indicative of other health issues, so it's not really something you want to mess around with for too long if it continues.
posted by twelve cent archie at 6:16 PM on July 31, 2021 [3 favorites]

I often sleep with compression sleeves on my calves because I have plantar fasciitis. The sleeves would probably do a decent job of preventing cramps though. The whole point is to keep your calf muscles from overtightening.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:49 PM on July 31, 2021

Another “hack” is to drink a teaspoon or so of vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar). Get some under your tongue if you can. Supposedly this interrupts the signal to the brain that is telling it to cramp. Also tonic water, a bit before bedtime can help.
posted by dbmcd at 6:50 PM on July 31, 2021

This happens to me if I binge eat licorice. But I think that's just because licorice can mess up your electrolytes, which other people already covered.
posted by aubilenon at 7:15 PM on July 31, 2021

Magnesium and potassium are key for prevention. I find that topical products like Theraworx are a huge help when in the midst of a cramp.
posted by skye.dancer at 7:43 PM on July 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Hi! You are me. Alka Calm is the answer you seek. It's a wonder supplement. Take it twice a day and 99% of your cramps will go away. It's not super cheap, but it is amazingly effective.
posted by pdb at 7:48 PM on July 31, 2021

I get wicked bad leg cramps if I haven't had a longish walk or gone for a run in several days.
posted by rodlymight at 9:53 PM on July 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Potassium. I keep potassium salt (sodium salt substitute for those who can’t have much sodium) at home just for this. When I get wicked cramps in my legs or feet, I mix up about 1/4 tsp of potassium salt in some water and chug it. It works in minutes.
posted by quince at 10:19 PM on July 31, 2021

Another vote for potassium and magnesium supplements. And/or banana.

I get terrible cramps in my calves and the arches of my feet at night too and seems to relate to dehydration / electrolytes. I sometimes have to reduce caffeine too. Often, I get twinges the day before it's bad, and so will take some supplements before bed or after exercise. I'd try loosening the sheets too, as suggested.

Good luck!
posted by sedimentary_deer at 11:52 PM on July 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is going to sound crazy, but I learned a trick a long time ago from an aging former pro hockey player. When you have a cramp, anywhere, pinch you upper lip between your mouth and your nose. Grab it and pinch hard. Works every time. Also, I eat bananas to prevent cramping. Also, if the mattress is too soft, you could be getting what I call nerve cramps not muscle cramps. My sciatic nerve gets crampy on a too soft hotel bed.
posted by AugustWest at 1:12 AM on August 1, 2021

I had a salt rich diet at home and then moved to university where I ate practically saltless cafeteria food (included in rent even though I didn't want it). Started getting horrendous night cramps exactly as you describe which only stopped once I increased my salt intake. I still carry little packets of salt in my wallet so I'm never short.
posted by knapah at 1:57 AM on August 1, 2021

Best answer: I have had this before! It was awful. I woke up screaming.

I would consider taking a magnesium and calcium supplement a couple of hours before bed, and incorporating more avocado, banana and/or potato into your diet (especially in the evening). Maybe you could also do some stretches before bed.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 4:25 AM on August 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Magnesium was the miracle cure for me too - but the scientific literature really does not bear this out, so who knows, might have also been the extra glass of water I drank to swallow the magnesium supplement.
posted by february at 5:57 AM on August 1, 2021

One more thing to throw in the mix that I haven't seen mentioned - apart from dehydration the other thing that really increased the chance of getting a cramp was if my lower legs got cold. Nowadays I often put an extra layer just on the bottom part of the bed, or wear bedsocks (sometimes just for 20 mins or so when I first get in bed). Keeping them warm helps the circulation I guess.
posted by crocomancer at 6:44 AM on August 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Coconut water.

I have RLS and used to wake up with leg cramps regularly (2-3 times a month for a decade); gabapentin (prescription) & magnesium supplements calmed the legs down but the cramps continued once a month or so. So now I drink coconut water for potassium when I'm thirsty, by using it to flavor my sparkling water. No cramps. Tasty, worth minor effort.
posted by saveyoursanity at 1:07 PM on August 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Seconding apple cider vinegar, and also a spoonful of plain yellow mustard. My FIL was having terrible calf cramps at night and said those work really well. And then he stopped drinking (a moderate drinker) and hasn't had a cramp since. And won't ever drink again because he hates those cramps so much.
posted by Snowishberlin at 1:50 PM on August 1, 2021

You have my sympathy; I, too, have awakened screaming from leg and/or foot cramps.

I've found that standing up and stepping up on a foot roller accelerates blood flow to the area that is cramping and thus provides relief faster just standing. (Something like this is fine, nothing terribly fancy or plug-in is needed (or wanted, especially in the middle of the night when these cramps usually flare up.)
posted by virago at 7:36 PM on August 1, 2021

Howling-level pain warrants a doctor visit!
posted by kapers at 8:20 PM on August 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

I had this with problem and it got worse as I started a different exercise routine. I tried electrolytes, hydration, stretching and massage. I didn't try reducing caffeine. What finally worked was a TENS unit set to very low settings for 15 min a night. I did it for about 2 weeks and the cramps totally went away. Over the years after this I have had probably 3 smaller shorter cramps.
posted by bdc34 at 9:07 AM on August 2, 2021

YMMV but my father had this problem when I was a kid and read an item in the newspaper that suggested putting a bar of soap in the sheets, and he did it, and he swore by it. Just sleeping with a bar of soap.

Maybe it's quackery or placebo or something but he swore by this.
posted by kensington314 at 10:45 AM on August 2, 2021

The cramps are so bad that I literally howl and cry in pain, and they are so debilitating that I cannot even manage to stretch my feet to combat the cramp - the muscle spasm is so strong that I literally can't flex my feet on my own and if I move to reach my toes the cramp gets worse.

I used to have an issue with this happening overnight, at a time when I had moved to a new living situation and increased my physical activity. In my case the calf muscle was the main one cramping, though it sounds like in your case it's a muscle in your feet. I'm not sure if it was a potassium deficiency or not, but eating a banana every day before going to sleep solved the issue.f

The room we are in has no kitchenette so we are limited to takeout or anything we can microwave or toast

I'm sure you have your reasons for this, I know some people need to cook all their foods for medical or other reasons. Usually I eat bananas raw but it won't hurt the potassium content at all to peel them first (important!) and microwave them. If your toaster happens to be a toaster over you could put a bit of butter on them and brown them in the toaster, delicious. Many cultures have cooked banana dishes, there might be some microwave versions of those around. Plantains are also high in potassium and there are lots of ways to cook those as well, probably not as good in the microwave as more traditional recipes but no reason you can't cook them in the microwave.

Many Central and South American restaurants have plantain dishes or sides on the menu, so you might be able to get takeout depending on what your options are.
posted by yohko at 11:49 AM on August 3, 2021

For me it was the potassium issue. Quince - thank you for the potassium salt info. I'm going to get it asap.
posted by andreap at 10:47 AM on August 8, 2021

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