The most agonizing pain in the calf comes at some point during your sleep, but calf cramps can also strike you during athletic training.
They can instantly halt whatever it was you were doing.
Calf cramps can be exceedingly painful, and everyone has experienced this pain at least once in their life.
What really goes on when a calf cramp comes on, which can take only a few seconds from painless to horribly painful?
There are actually several causes of calf cramps.
Dehydration is one of them. This doesn’t mean gasping for water as though you’ve been wandering in a 100-degree desert for days. You can be dehydrated and not even feel thirsty.
To prevent this, make a point of drinking six to eight glasses of water every day, whether or not you are thirsty for it.
You don’t have to drink a whole glass at once. You can sip throughout your waking moments. Lack of hydration can speed up the calf (and stomach) cramping process.
Not getting enough rest, and/or overexercising, is the next cause.
Calf cramping can occur if you’re pedaling hard on a bicycle for a prolonged period, exceeding the time that you normally spend pedaling.
Or an extra-long hiking bout up steep grades can cramp the calves up.
The cramping can come on suddenly, and if you’re a few miles from the trail head, you have no choice but to continue hiking for that distance, making the cramping worse.
Vitamin deficiency is the third possible culprit. It’s believed that the depleted levels involve phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium.
Insufficient warming up also can lead to calf pain. Stiff calves are more vulnerable to cramping up.
Another cause of calves cramping up is magnesium deficiency.
“When your muscles are engaged in the rapid-fire contraction and relaxation of physical exercise, if there is too much calcium (the initiator of contractions) and too little magnesium (the initiator of relaxation), muscle cramps and a buildup of lactic acid can result,” explains Carolyn Dean, MD, ND – Medical Advisory Board Member, Nutritional Magnesium Association at nutritionalmagnesium.org.
“Eighty percent of the population has magnesium deficiency, which means that as you stretch your legs, which requires calcium to initiate that contraction in the muscle, if you don’t have magnesium to relax that muscle, the contraction continues into a cramp/charley horse or muscle spasm or twitch.”
Lastly, poor circulation, as a result of tight socks, can cramp calves.
Solutions to the Pain of Calf Cramps
An obvious solution is to cease the activity, or take a rest if you’re out in the wilderness, and massage the affected area.
Taking a magnesium supplement will also help, and Dr. Dean says it should be in powder form because this is the most absorbable.
Also do some stretching, and drink water. But to prevent calf cramps, it’s important to warm up before exercising.
I always see people jumping on the treadmill and going straight into a six or seven mph run; no slower jog preceding it, not even a walk.
It’s also not smart to exit fast running and enter straight into a seated position.
Transition out of fast running to slow running, and then a few minutes of walking, if you are vulnerable to calf cramping.
Slip in calf stretching throughout your workout, even if it’s an upper body day.
While you’re waiting for someone to finish up on the seated chest press equipment, for instance, do some calf stretching.
Drink water before, during and after exercise, whether or not you are thirsty.
Dr. Dean, in practice for 35+ years and author of “The Magnesium Miracle,” is also a naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist, acupuncturist, lecturer and consultant.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.