Reader’s Question: Severe cramping in my foot, ankle, calf, and groin have been waking me up between 3 and 5 am every morning, causing me to lose sleep and leaving me exhausted during the day. I’ve tried stretching my foot, ankle, and calf muscles – and, in severe cases, using a heating pad to release the cramp in my groin area. I’ve also tried magnesium citrate and most recently 200 mg of biglycinate, but neither have been helpful. Is there anything else I can do about the muscle cramps so I can sleep through the night?
Dr. Glenn Rothfeld: First of all, you’re not alone. I get lots of questions about muscle cramps – and when they interrupt your sleep (as they usually do), they can really derail your energy levels and overall health.
As I usually tell my patients, cramping especially in the legs is usually a dead giveaway for a magnesium deficiency. Some people have trouble absorbing the mineral properly as they age – but also certain blood pressure and asthma drugs can deplete the magnesium in your body. The best thing to do is get your magnesium levels checked by a doctor, and work with him to make sure you’re getting the right dose of supplements to get you back up to optimum levels.
Magnesium, however, isn’t the only culprit of those cramps. Shortages of potassium and calcium can also trigger muscle issues, so make sure your doctor tests your levels of those nutrients as well.
In the meantime, believe it or not there’s an herb called “cramp bark” (Viburnum opulus) that, as its name suggests, is derived from the bark of a tree and works to relieve muscle spasms and cramping. It’s available as a tincture (take 4 to 8 drops, three times a day), but I find it’s easiest to take as a tea: Put 2 teaspoons of dried bark into a cup of water, bring to a boil, and then simmer for 15 minutes. Drink a cup three times a day.
Sometimes, though, mainstream medicine and even traditional supplement approaches aren’t enough for what’s causing your cramps. In the past, I’ve referred patients to an herbalist, who’ll explore lifestyle and dietary habits in order to develop a treatment plan that’s far more individualised and personal than most mainstream doctors are able to do.
Herbal medicine attempts to help the body remain in – or return itself to – the state of balance we know of as “healthy.” An herbalist might recommend antispasmodic agents to ease cramping of the smooth and skeletal muscles; but he might also recommend bodywork, massage, physical therapy, or treatment by a chiropractor or osteopath.Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing