2009.12.09 Calf muscles gone wild

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

The time was probably 3:33 a.m. My wife was finally coming to bed and when I shifted positions, my left calf muscles went crazy with a cramp.

It’s a fairly rare situation for me. It only happens once every few years that I can remember. More often I’ve felt a cramp start to occur, but changing the position of a leg fends it off. 

Colleen always has a ready answer—something is lacking in my diet—but I don’t recall for sure what she says. Calcium, I think. Or maybe what’s lacking has changed over the years.

Maybe I need more kefir in my diet. My wife brought a couple of quarts home recently and I savored them to the last calcium-laden drop.

I’m guessing that kefir might not be a familiar word to most readers. It’s sort of a drinkable yogurt, although it isn’t yogurt. It’s fermented milk, like yogurt, but it contains many more strains of friendly bacteria than yogurt. 

The stuff I get isn’t fermented in a pouch made of animal skin hung in the doorway of a house so people passing by will knock it about and improve the fermenting process. It’s massed produced somewhere, with strawberry juice and sugar added. I can’t imagine drinking it straight out of the pouch.

I never buy kefir. It seems like too much of a luxury. I don’t deserve it. And when it appears in our refrigerator, I’m careful with my consumption.

I would never drink kefir from a glass because there’s no way to get it all out. It’s thin enough to drink; thick enough to leave a heavy film behind. I pour it onto a saucer or into a shallow bowl so I can lick it clean like a cat would. 

Last week I even cut the container open when it was empty to really clean it out. Like I said, not a drop is wasted.

Perhaps my obsession with this treat really does point to a need for more calcium, the cramping might be something else. Maybe Colleen said it’s a lack of potassium and I need to begin scraping every last bit of residue inside a banana peel. Or maybe she said iron and I should suck on a nail all day.

I mentioned the cramping incident on the Observer’s blog. I said that my left calf went crazy with a cramp, but that’s putting it lightly. The pain is so intense and uncontrollable. I knew my wife had the solution—not the diet solution, another recipe for instant relief—but I wondered what it would be like if there wasn’t someone with the fix.

Would it eventually end on its own? Would I finally pass out from the pain? Would I roll out of bed and start hopping on one foot and eventually fall down the stairs? Then I would find relief that the broken arm pain covered up the cramp.

My cousin-out-law, Ralph, read the blog post and wrote that he has to get up and walk around to make it go away. I knew the solution was in the pointing of the toes, but I couldn’t remember if it was up or down.

“‘Do you point the toes out or in?’ I asked through the pain.”

Colleen read that later and said that “asked through the pain” wasn’t very accurate. It was more like frantically screaming, “Which way—up or down? up or down?”

I didn’t want to point my foot down if that would make it worse. She said to point it toward the head. Sure enough, instant relief. My leg was still sore when I got up, but the cramp was short lived.

Ralph sent a link to the People’s Pharmacy where someone gave this solution:

“Just pinch the bridge of the nose (pretty hard) for 5 to 10 seconds. You can feel the cramp dissolve.”

Another responder said taking quinine helps, but leads to ringing in the ears. This person also said to use former Arkansas football coach Frank Broyles’s method: Pinch the upper lip right beneath the nose and hold it until the cramps gradually go away.

A gradual fix? I want instant relief.

My wife is awake now and I asked for clarification. She said it’s potassium. That goes along with what a friend told me: Her father must eat two bananas a day to avoid cramping. I first asked her what to do about leg cramps and she wrote back “bananas.” Unfortunately, I had already rubbed banana peels all over my calf before reading the follow-up message about eating them.

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