Watch any television show these days, especially some of the more “minor” cable channels in the evening, and you’ll see ads for new medicines curing problems that we never even knew existed. (I’ll leave to the student speculation that the problems didn’t exist until a “cure” was discovered.) The growing number of treatments for sexual problems is a well established source of one joke after another. Before that (and still) there are drugs to make hair grow. Now there’s “low T,” with commercials for the treatments almost immediately followed with commercials from ambulance chasing lawyers who want your business to sue after you took a treatment for “low T.” On and on it goes.
Yet, I’m well aware of a fairly common and very painful malady which has no treatment or cure at all. It’s intermittent, non-lethal, and appears to get worse with age. Yet you can google it, go to sites like webmd.com or mayoclinic.org and you’ll find nothing that helps.
I’m talking about nocturnal leg cramps.
If you’ve never had them, count your blessings and I’ll see you tomorrow. If you have had them, you know exactly how bad it is to wake up in the middle of the night with one (or both) of your legs in total agony as one or more muscles has decided for some unknown reason to cramp into a knot the size of a grapefruit under your skin, resisting every effort to get it to relax.
It’s very painful for you, and “disturbing” for your partner who gets woken up by your screaming and cursing.
The “solution” once one hits is generally to force the muscle to stretch out and uncramp. I get them generally in my calf muscles, on the back side of the leg between the knee and ankle. In that case, the cramping will pull my toes down, so to stretch out I need to bring my foot back perpendicular to my leg. Sometimes (like the other night) it’s so hard to do that I have to stumble out of bed and put my weight on the leg in order to press the heel down, toes up, and calf stretched. This is a truly wonderful exercise to do at 4:07 AM in the dark when you’ve been woken from a dead sleep by sudden, intense pain, and by the time you get to the point where you have to go to this extreme measure, the pain’s been going on for several minutes. What fun!
I’ve also started to get them in my shin muscles from time to time. Cramps there are generally not as severe so they’re easier to stretch out, but they’re no less painful.
Either way, I often find that the muscle in question is sore for days afterward. Plus the fact that once it has cramped and is sore, it’s that much more likely to cramp again in the next night or two.
What causes them? No one knows, no one has any good guesses. (But the Mayo Clinic site has the nerve to refer to them as “usually harmless.” Obviously whoever wrote the article never has experienced one.)
What can I do to prevent them? No one knows, no one has any good guesses. Some anecdotal scuttlebutt on the interwebs suggests that maybe some light exercise before bedtime will help. Of course, other anecdotal scuttlebutt says to avoid any exercise before bedtime…
Is there anything that I can take to prevent them? Some type of food to take? Or avoid? More hydration? Less hydration? Less salt? More salt? Hell, at this point I would give up chocolate! (Well, on second thought…) Nope, no answers.
I’ve had problems intermittently for years and I’ve asked at least two family doctors and gotten the exact same answers. No one knows, no one has guesses, no one even has any decent suggestions to try.
So where’s “Big Pharma” on this one? Can we take 1% of the impotence research budget and look into nocturnal leg cramps? How about 2% of the money spent to grow fuller, longer, natural eyelashes? (I wish I was kidding about that one, but I’ve seen the ads. Jeez!)
I have no problem with the research money spent on curing cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and so on. But I think problems which cause intense pain at random times should be higher on the priority list than limp genitals and freakishly long eyelashes.
It’s bed time for me now. Crawling into bed at the end of a long day should be a pleasant experience, to be looked forward to. Not something that makes you dread it, wondering when and how the next attack will come.