You've been on the road for days. You're exhausted. Finally you take a shower and climb into your bunk ready for a few wonderful hours of sleep. An hour passes in dreamland when suddenly your leg goes...
You’ve been on the road for days. You’re exhausted. Finally you take a shower and climb into your bunk ready for a few wonderful hours of sleep. An hour passes in dreamland when suddenly your leg goes into spasm – the attack of the dreaded charley horse!
These nasty muscle spasms can ruin a night’s sleep … or interrupt a smooth drive down the highway. If you’ve had one, you know exactly what I mean.
A charley horse is an involuntary contraction of the muscle in the leg or foot. The larger the muscle affected – the more severe the pain. It usually comes at night, when your leg has relaxed and the muscles have cooled down. Or, you may get one because you got hit in the leg or you stretched a little more than usual – either at work, or while playing sports. Be prepared. If you’ve used your legs more than usual today – Charley may wake you up in the middle of the night.
Though a charley horse is very painful, it’s usually not serious. This type of cramp seems to be triggered by keeping your leg in an unnatural position. If the blood flow to your leg or foot is impaired, your muscles abnormally contract and you get a cramp.
Unfortunately, driving truck is an ideal occupation for triggering a charley horse. Sitting all day driving truck definitely inhibits the blood flow to your legs … especially if you don’t shift positions while you’re driving. Move in your seat at least every 15 minutes to make sure you keep the blood flowing smoothly.
Under normal conditions, getting a charley horse while resting is just a painful inconvenience. However, if you get a cramp while you’re walking, that’s a different story. This may be a signal that you’ve got a big problem with your circulation and may be a sign of atherosclerosis.
If you get leg cramps quite often, you may be lacking some of these important nutrients: calcium, salt, thiamine, pantothenic acid, biotin, magnesium and/or Vitamin C. The most common cause is a lack of calcium, which is necessary for normal muscle contraction and relaxation.
Although North Americans usually get enough salt – every once in a while, if you’ve been sweating all day, or have the runs – you may lose enough to cause cramps. In this case, increase your salt intake for a day or two.
Not enough Vitamin C can also be responsible for pains in the muscles and joints. Prevention and treatment for leg cramps should include an adequate diet containing sufficient amounts of all of these nutrients:
Calcium: You absorb the highest percentage (over 50 per cent) of the calcium that is found in foods like cauliflower, watercress, brussels sprouts, rutabaga, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, broccoli and turnip greens. In the following foods you absorb about 30 per cent of the calcium: milk, calcium-fortified milk and calcium-set tofu. You get about 20 per cent of the calcium in almonds, sesame seeds, and pinto beans. But you only get up to five per cent of the calcium in spinach, rhubarb, swiss chard and sweet potatoes. Be sure to have some Vitamin D foods, too, because it helps your body use the calcium more easily.
If you decide to take supplements, read the label. Many inorganic supplements such as dolomite, and oyster shell are almost useless because your body cannot readily absorb them. You need an organic source product.
Pantothenic acid: This nutrient is easily found in many foods. Especially: organ meats, mushrooms, avocados, broccoli and whole grains. Pantothenic acid is destroyed by heat – so you’ll need more of the foods if you cook them to get enough of it.
Biotin: This is also widespread in foods. Especially: organ meats, egg yolks, soybeans, fish and whole grain products.
Thiamine: Corn Flakes (fortified), spinach, green peas, tomato juice, watermelon, sunflower seeds, ham, pork chops, soymilk and acorn squash.
Magnesium: Spinach, broccoli, green beans, tomato juice, navy beans, pinto beans, sunflower seeds, tofu, halibut, cashews, artichoke and black-eyed peas.
Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, cabbage-type vegetables, dark green vegetables, cantaloupe, strawberries, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, papayas and mangoes.
Hopefully, by including these foods in your well-balanced diet, you won’t suffer these cramps as often. But if you do get a charley horse, that strong muscle contraction can pull and bruise your muscle, leaving you sore and stiff. So after this happens, be sure to eat enough protein to help your body rebuild the damaged muscle tissue.
It’s the same old story … a balanced diet, moderate exercise, and position shifts throughout the day all lead to a healthier body. Take care of yourself so you can say, “Goodbye, Charley!”
– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.