Calf Cramps

Today a patient described to me waking up in the middle of the night with a jolt due to a severe cramp in her calf muscle. What causes this to happen and what can be done about it?

Cramping in the calf at night time is not uncommon. One of the reasons the calf muscles are so susceptible to cramping is their distance from the heart. Being further from the heart means that there is further distance for blood to travel in order to reach the calf muscles resulting in poorer circulation. At night time the whole body cools down and blood pressure drops causing muscles to become stiffer, affecting those muscles with poor circulation the most.

The calf muscle group is very powerful and the muscles work very hard which can result in them becoming quite tight from day to day use. If the muscles are already quite tight when going to bed, then the increase in stiffness when the body cools can cause them to cramp.

Muscles are also more likely to be tight when the body is dehydrated as water will be diverted from the muscles to the essential organs if there isn’t enough in the body, making the muscles stiffer.

Deficiencies of electrolytes such as magnesium and potassium can also have a big effect on muscle cramping. These electrolytes play an important role in the relaxation of muscle fibres and it can be very difficult for a muscle to relax if there aren’t enough electrolytes present, again making the muscle stiffer.

Now that we know the three main factors influencing cramping in the calf – pre-existing stiffness, dehydration and electrolyte deficiency – what can we do about it?

If you are suffering from calf cramping at night time then stretching the muscles before bed, ensuring that you are drinking at least two litres of water per day and taking a magnesium supplement whilst simultaneously introducing more bananas and avocados into your diet for potassium can vastly improve the frequency of these episodes.

A hot bath with Epsom Salts (which are rich in Magnesium) can really help too.

If you are taking any medication, especially blood pressure medication, or if you have high blood pressure or a medical condition then check with your GP before taking any electrolyte supplements as these may not be safe for you to take.

Looking forward to seeing you at your next appointment.

Warm regards,

Geoff and Luke
Farringdon Osteopaths