How to manage painful muscle cramps

(I think)

disclaimer: to the best of my knowledge, the causes and cures of painful muscle cramps are unknown. Researchers have studied nearly every electrolyte & metabolite in people who don’t get cramps, people who get cramps, people who get cramps while they’re actively experiencing a painful muscle cramp, and when they’re not.

Conclusion:

¯\_(?)_/¯

 

This is about idiopathic painful muscle cramps. Pregnancy, dialysis, and cirrhosis-related cramps may be completely different.

 

 

It happened to me. Here’s what I did.

Day 1: I first banked on the electrolyte & quinine theories. Had some homemade broth & various store-bought stocks. Ate more seafood (for a lot of things, but also minerals). And diet tonic water for the quinine.

Day 2: Rx for 2g potassium BID and Doc recommended 400 IU vitamin E at night (I had no idea why at the time).

Cramping seemed to exhibit a circadian component, worsening as the day progressed but totally gone in the morning.

Day 3: pickle juice. Gross, I know, but I was getting desperate. (And it was regular pickle juice, not these cool pickle juice shots.)

 

 

Same symptoms as day 2, except in the evening I took 5mg diazepam (Valium) and 500 mg naproxen (Aleve). That was the first thing that actually provided relief.

Day 4: went to a new doc for a second opinion; he knew I was on potassium & recommended tonic water. So I started drinking a lot more tonic water… was getting sick of pickle juice anyway.

 

 

400 mg magnesium glycinatetopical spray-on magnesium

 

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  • Non-drug therapies for lower limb muscle cramps https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22258986

  • Quinine (tonic water) for painful muscle cramps https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25842375

  • Are there alternatives to the use of quinine to treat nocturnal leg cramps? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18454580

  • Treatment of nocturnal leg cramps. A crossover trial of quinine vs vitamin E
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1520054

    Tl;dr: quinine won.

  • Quinine for nocturnal leg cramps: works https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9754515

  • Interested Party

    I also went through a lot of “chemicals” to try to alleviate my cramping when I started to play a lot more tennis when I retired. Every night I suffered from cramps if a made a “bad move” in bed, cramps mostly in leg calf muscles and feet muscles. Tried quinine, read books, also tried NSAIDS (which helped), and finally settled on Magnesium supplements. These I continue to take five years later, but I honestly do not find any correlation between lack of cramping and meds or diet. I do find correlation between lots of exercise (like sprints in tennis) and nighttime cramps. NO EXERCISE, NO CRAMPS. I find that as I become more fit, cramping happens less frequently. I now believe that cramping is just a response to tired muscles, and there are no “chemicals” that make a difference. That does not mean that there won’t be any at some future time, but they will likely treat the symptom and not the cause, per force.

    • my experience was similar. Cramps are still a mystery to me, but the 3 people I consulted and a lot of the literature does seem to support the electrolyte & quinine theories… but they didn’t provide immediate relief in my case. I still did all those things (including pickle juice!), but when I needed immediate relief: diazepam, naproxen, & stretching.

  • Acute effects of ginger extract on biochemical and functional symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26793652

  • Ella Daly

    Sedentary lifestyle but increasingly suffering night time calf and foot cramps from mid 40s. Also suffered quite a bit in childhood to early 20s. Have had great and almost instant cramp relief from 400mg per night of magnesium citrate. Cramps returned when dosing became lax. Diligent intake every night results in absence of cramps. N =1 for what it’s worth

  • Impact of nocturnal calf cramps on quality of sleep & health-related quality of life https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23011494
    Tl;dr: THEY SUCK
    DUH