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Cure Foot and Leg Cramps

Updated on March 19, 2016
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If you are a woman, likely your first experience with foot and leg cramps was during pregnancy—waking up in the middle of the night because of a painful cramp in one of your feet. Often these will go away if you get up and walk around, putting your weight on the cramped foot.

Many people begin to experience foot and leg cramps as they get older—and often such people are experiencing severe cramps of other kinds, such as problems with their backs “going out” from time to time. (See: http://blueheron.hubpages.com/hub/Cure-Your-Bad-Back)

In general, if what’s ailing you is a cramp or spasm, almost regardless of the location, the underlying problem is magnesium deficiency—or, more accurately, a deficiency of magnesium intake vis-à-vis calcium intake.

Inadequate dietary magnesium intake is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies among people in the US.

Our muscles work on a kind of calcium-magnesium “switch.” Calcium works to allow muscles to contract. Magnesium works to allow muscles to relax. If there is insufficient magnesium in relation to calcium, the body will get stuck on the “calcium switch”—causing uncontrollable muscular contractions, that is, cramping or spasms.

While many people in the US eat a very poor diet, usually it includes sufficient calcium in the form of milk and cheese. Milk and dairy products, while rich in calcium, are very low in magnesium. For most people in the US, it would take some extraordinary circumstances to produce calcium deficiency.

Some examples of these extraordinary circumstances might be pregnancy, illness, methamphetamine use, other heavy use of drugs, alcoholism, or incarceration.

Calcium deficiency is unlikely, except in people who strictly limit or exclude milk and dairy products from their diets.

Magnesium, on the other hand, is chiefly found in the foods many Americans are not eating in sufficient quantity: dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, and whole grains. There is also lots of magnesium in dark chocolate—327 mg per cup, grated. Some people have suggested that chocolate cravings may be an indication that the body needs more magnesium.

One cup of cooked spinach provides 157 mg of magnesium—certainly a lower-calories choice. One-half cup of almonds provides 192 mg of magnesium.

The current recommended daily intake of magnesium is 400 mg.

The point: Calcium and magnesium intakes must be in balance, and the diets of most Americans are overbalanced in favor of calcium—that is, their calcium intake is too high in relation to their magnesium intake. Foot and leg cramps are one of the more immediately noticeable effects of this imbalance, but muscle cramps can also occur elsewhere in the body.

There is actually quite a bit of debate as to optimal calcium/magnesium ratios in the diet. The most widely accepted ratio is 2:1 (the ratio found in most calcium/magnesium supplements), or twice as much calcium as magnesium. But many nutritionists are now advocating ratios of 1:1—or even 1:2! That is, some sources are suggesting that we need an intake of magnesium that is equal to—or even twice as much—as our calcium intake!

One of the take-aways from this discussion: Taking calcium/magnesium supplements is likely to further overbalance the calcium intake, rather than correct it.

MAGNESIUM SUPPLEMENTS

I got rid of my leg and foot cramps with magnesium supplements. I have mentioned this to friends, who later told me that their leg and foot cramps disappeared as soon as they started magnesium supplementation.

Other symptoms of magnesium deficiency—tension, irritability, nervousness, anxiety, etc.—will also disappear.

A key point here is that these problems will not be solved—and may be exacerbated—by taking a combination calcium/magnesium supplement. Magnesium must be taken alone, to restore the calcium/magnesium balance.

One 250-300 mg tablet per day of magnesium alone should do the job. Magnesium supplementation is actually much safer than calcium supplementation. Excess calcium builds up in the body, whereas excess magnesium is excreted. You can tell if your magnesium intake is excessive, because it will act as a laxative, causing diarrhea.

Another symptom of magnesium deficiency is “bad back”—the kind where you back periodically “goes out,” causing you considerable pain. Other symptoms are nervousness and anxiety. Daily doses of magnesium will solve these problems too. A number of years ago, I suggested magnesium supplements to a young man suffering from myoclonus (a jerking or twitching muscle)—in his case in the inner ear. He said he was taking calcium/magnesium supplements, and they did not help. As soon as he switched to supplementing with magnesium alone, the condition cleared up. Magnesium supplementation is worth a try for almost any condition involving a cramp, spasm, twitch, or tic. There are many anecdotal claims that magnesium can clear up problems like asthma (a spasm of the bronchial tubes), and migraine (a spasm of muscles in the head).

You may find that magnesium supplements help other seemingly unrelated problems, since magnesium is involved in more than 300 of the body’s biochemical processes.

VITAMIN B6 (PYRIDOXINE)

Vitamin B6 is a co-factor of magnesium, and has been used alone successfully to treat leg and foot cramps. It is especially effective to use both magnesium and B6 supplements. Probably a good daily supplement would be the amounts suggested to prevent the formation of kidney stones: 300 mg. of magnesium oxide, along with 10 mg. of Vitamin B6. Actually, 250 mg. of magnesium might be enough. The amount of magnesium depends on your body weight and your level of calcium consumption.

EPSOMS SALTS BATHS

Epsom’s Salts baths will help ease acute cramping.


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    • Vicki Martin Wood profile image

      Vicki Wood 

      10 months ago from Eldon, Missouri

      its always worth a try, i have nothing to lose. Thanks for all of your information, very helpful

    • blueheron profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Vile 

      10 months ago from Odessa, MO

      Thank you! Among my friends and acquaintances (okay, mostly Facebook friends and acquaintances--who tend to be on the geriatric side), magnesium supplementation is so well known that everyone suggests it for almost every ache or pain. It has probably helped thousands of people.

      There are, of course, aches and pains that are probably not helped by magnesium supplementation. One example seems to be fibromyalgia--or at least I hear reports that it does not help fibromyalgia.

    • Vicki Martin Wood profile image

      Vicki Wood 

      10 months ago from Eldon, Missouri

      thank you i will try these suggestions. good article, very well written

    • Leroro profile image

      Jia 

      5 years ago from Australia

      No, not really. He has had slight back problems in the past, but that from a preexisting occupational injury.

      Anyway, thanks. I'll be sure to go to a pharmacy and ask if magnesium supplements are right for my dad.

    • blueheron profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Vile 

      5 years ago from Odessa, MO

      Most of the time, the problem is simple magnesium deficiency. Does your dad's back "go out"? This is another sign of (probably) more severe magnesium deiciency.

      I would have to research the banana thing, since bananas are known for being high in potassium, which works together with sodium (salt) in the body. I don't want to say too much about that without researching it.

      In any case, magnesium deficiency seems to be the most common cause of muscle cramps, and it is a very safe supplement to take as directed at around 300-400 mg per day.

    • Leroro profile image

      Jia 

      5 years ago from Australia

      I am not prone to muscle cramps, but my dad suffers from them a lot. I heard eating bananas also helps with muscle cramps. Would you know if this is also due to vitamin B6/ Magnesium? Anyway, thanks for the tip. I'll be sure to tell my dad.

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