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Muscle Cramps: Recent article about preventing them in WSJ

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  • Muscle Cramps: Recent article about preventing them in WSJ

    Today's Wall Street Journal has a large article about muscle cramps. I would encourage anyone who gets cramps to read it. It's a potentially great advance which undercuts the "conventional wisdom" of cramping.

    Some key bits:
    For decades physicians and other experts in sports medicine have theorized that a cramp was the result of a muscle that was dehydrated, or starved of electrolytes, or suffering tears in its micro-fibers and cell membranes. Now, more experts are beginning to believe we may have been thinking wrongly about cramps all along.
    The primary origin of the cramp is the nerve, not the muscle.
    After perusing the existing research he and Dr. Bean hypothesized that they could modify the nervous system, including the motor neurons controlling muscle, by applying a strong sensory input and by stimulating receptors in the mouth and esophagus—which is how scientists describe ingesting pungent tasting foods. The pungent-taste overloads nerve receptors, producing a kind of numbing effect.
    I know a lot of elite athletes who swear by pickle juice as the cure for cramps. It seems these scientists are discovering why that works!
    Nobel Prize winner Rod MacKinnon found that pungent and spicy tastes can hinder neurological misfires that cause muscle cramping. He and others developed the spicy drink, Hotshot, to help.
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  • #2
    The other "pickle juice" study wondered how ingesting the stuff (especially vinegar) could provide results faster than the gut could digest the stuff. This "overloading nerve receptors" seems like a plausible explanation.

    I can't help but think this is the equivalent of having one pain and inflicting a greater one to take your mind off the first one!
    Yeow! I gotta leg cramp!
    Glug. Glug.
    Yechh! That tastes awful!!
    Hey! Where'd the cramp go?

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    • #3
      Bt the same logic I guess if one calf cramps up you could drive an ice pick into the other one.
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      • #4
        When I went through a pre-childbirth class, one of the things they taught was to lightly touch the hairs on your forearm. (Or *her* forearm, whatever. ) The concept is similar, in that the brain focuses on the tickling sensation on your forearm and 'forgets' the other pain signal.

        Also important is the difference between nerve pain and muscle pain. Trying to treat & resolve nerve pain by addressing a muscle pain doesn't mitigate the actual problem.
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        • #5
          This still begs the question of how to avoid it in the first place...
          Tom Rankin - 5444W "In the depths of Summer, I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible Winter"

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          • #6
            Speaking of cramps. Couple of weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night with a killer cramp in my calf. The pain was excruciating and lasted about 30 secs. I had a sore calf for 2-3 days after due, I assume, to muscle fiber damage.
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            • #7
              I hate those leg cramps at night. I get them all the time and they cause to roll right out of bed.
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              • #8
                The report talks about drinking the "noxious" substance as a preventive, so the theory of distraction, or biting the bullet, doesn't seem to apply as it would for treatment of an existing cramp.

                Anecdotal information suggests that quinine might be useful, so chase down that pickle juice with a gin and tonic before bed ( or just try the tonic water or bitter lemon).

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Neil View Post
                  ... a killer cramp in my calf. The pain was excruciating ... I had a sore calf for 2-3 days after due, I assume, to muscle fiber damage.
                  Was it because of the icepick?

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Trail Boss View Post

                    Was it because of the icepick?
                    I got rid of the cramp by driving the ice pick into my eye, (the eye on the other side because of the decussation of nerve fibers between head and body.)
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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Neil View Post
                      Speaking of cramps. Couple of weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night with a killer cramp in my calf. The pain was excruciating and lasted about 30 secs. I had a sore calf for 2-3 days after due, I assume, to muscle fiber damage.
                      I've had a few of those recently too. First time in my life I've had that happen. On top of the calf issues I've been limping around for a few weeks with a sore left hamstring. Getting old sucks. Everything takes longer to heal.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Makwa View Post
                        Getting old sucks. Everything takes longer to heal.
                        My chiropractor just bought a new yacht.

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                        • #13
                          I've been putting Tabasco sauce in my water bottle for years. Now I know why I never have cramps.

                          Keeps it sterile too. If a bug or dirt falls in, it just dissolves.

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                          • #14
                            Sriracha. Ingredients: chile peppers, vinegar, garlic, garlic, sugar, salt.

                            It would appear the Thai's developed the winning formula well before Rod MacKinnon.

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                          • #15
                            Prevention = potassium
                            A few years ago there was a similar discussion ( how to prevent ), and having an equal balance of sodium / potassium so cells could absorb water was the key point.
                            I have / used to take small amounts of potassium mid trail run ( a 80mg tablet cut into 1/4s ) Also eat a banana in the morning.
                            what I have found out since is potassium loading as in carb loading. For a few days leading up to big hike I concentrate on potassium rich foods.
                            The humble zucchini ( small cubes stir fried or shredded raw in place of lettuce in a salad ) is a great source of vegetable protein, fiber and potassium.

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