- The night time terror that disturbed an entire postcode area
- Why does a muscle go into spasm?
- Discover the five best ways to stop muscle cramp pain
First a general apology for the residents in my street for the horrible noise that woke you on Wednesday night last week.
You may have thought that the blood curdling howls were the result of an invading Mongol army – or at least a major military skirmish in the street.
Let me explain what actually happened.
It was just after three o’clock in the morning and the early frost was forming a crust on the windscreens of the car; Jack was clearly enjoying making those swirly patterns which are a joy to behold but a bugger to shift with the edge of a credit card!
Our household were well into the land of nod huddled down under our duvets, deep in our dreams. And then the worst pain known to man reared its ugly head!
I know that such a statement is always likely to generate debate concerning the merits of kidney stones, jellyfish stings and childbirth – however, it was the worst pain known to THIS man!
By the power of all that is holy, when it strikes in the middle of the night it is far from funny.
I didn’t know what to do or how to deal with it. My calf was on fire, it felt like the muscles had been tied in a knot and the pain was so intense.
I bellowed so loudly that I woke the entire house sending the dog into a frenzy of barking as he charged around the kitchen.
Lara is never at her best when awoken suddenly, and this time was no different.
It made no difference that I was curled into a foetal ball, gently sobbing and daring not to move for fear of a return of that searing pain.
“What on EARTH is the matter with you now?” she demanded as she snapped the bedside light on, “you’ve woken the kids you big fool.”
“My leg... cramp... help me!” I gabbled, hoping that she knew of a magic way to make the pain go away, “stretch my foot...please”.
It was the only way I knew to get rid of muscle cramps, and harked back to my days on the rugby pitch. Towards the end of the game there was always a need for muscles to be stretched as the exertions took their toll.
In the spirit of camaraderie your team mates would help stretch the cramping limb, and work with you to be ready for the next onslaught.
Apparently, though, Lara wasn’t a team player!
I was left with my foot wedged against the bottom of the bed whilst I rubbed my spasming calf. It felt so weird, almost as if there was a bag of worms under my skin.
Lara, meanwhile, went to settle the kids and dog back down after their rude awakening.
After about fifteen minutes the pain had lessened to a dull ache, still full of threat that it may escalate back to a full cramped state if I didn’t treat it with kid gloves. I lay back on the mattress, breathing like I had just run a marathon.
“Bananas would stop that,” Lara said, “I thought you would know that.”
Right at that moment I prayed for a big enough banana to club her into submission! Of course I knew about the benefits of the potassium rich fruit for helping to control cramps, but I didn’t think any amount would have made a difference right at that moment.
So what are muscle cramps?
What makes a muscle cramp?
A cramp is described as “an involuntarily and powerfully contracted muscle that does not relax” and so is taken to be something that happens as a result of the body working on its own.
There are serious forms of cramping that need medical investigation which can be due to infection or toxin build up (Tetany); inherited conditions such as McArdles Disease; and neural deficits (Dystonia).
The majority of us, however, will suffer from true cramps which are not life threatening, or at least they aren’t as long as you don’t wake the family up too often!
These are usually as a result of over exertion which stresses the muscle tissue or a failing in the bodies ability to maintain its fluid and electrolyte balance.
In my case it was probably a combination of both as I had spent a heavy few days in the garden preparing for the new season, and I had also overdone the coffee that day when I had a meeting with my publisher.
The combined effect of tired muscles and diuretic caffeine must have tipped me over the edge.
Five proven ways to reduce the risk of cramps
This list is by no means exhaustive, but they are all well proven ways to minimise the agony of knotting muscles.
- Maintain the correct balance of calcium, magnesium and potassium as well as the correct levels of vitamin E. in your diet you should have your needs covered. These vital minerals are the key to allowing the body to regulate its fluid balance.
This is where the banana effect comes in as they are incredibly rich in potassium, but you can also get this mineral from pulses, onions and garlic.
- Sometimes quinine - a treatment for malaria - can help. Quinine sulphate (200-400mg per day), available from chemists, can reduce the frequency of cramps. The benefit is cumulative, so it's thought to help if taken regularly.
However, the use of quinine is controversial. There are potential side-effects such as dizziness and blurred vision, so talk to your doctor first.
- Valerian root at bedtime may help to relax the muscles. The recommended dose is 300-500mg of root extract (available in a pill), or 5 ml of tincture, taken one hour before bedtime.
- Make sure that your bedclothes are not too tight or too heavy. There is evidence that movement which is restricted by sheets which are tightly tucked in, or heavy duvets can increase your cramping risk.
- Gentle and regular exercise can help stretch out muscles and promote blood flow to them and lymphatic drainage away from them. Don’t think that you need to don Lycra and head off to the local gym – I’m talking about a daily walk to the shops.
So, once again I apologise to those whose sleep I disturbed, it was beyond my control. If it helps, Lara has now made sure that I am eating my own body weight in bananas each day, so hopefully a repeat performance will be avoided.
Yours, as always