Friday, January 13, 2006

I Felt Like Cutting Off My Leg

Early this morning around 2:00 a.m., I awoke to excruciating pain. I had a muscle cramp in my right calf. It's the longest cramp I've ever had; it must've lasted for 10 minutes. I just kept holding my calf muscle, crying, and praying that the pain would stop. It didn't go away immediately, so I tried to stand up and walk it off. I ended up in this weird standing/crawling position, and I was just crying and crying my eyes out. Finally, the pain ceased, but I was so afraid it would come back. I don't know how I ever fell back asleep.

The cramp was such a bad one that when I woke up this morning, my calf was sore. Actually, it's sore right now -- nearly 11 hours later.

The whole thing got me thinking about why I get muscle cramps. In my right calf only. I've gotten them ever since my early high school years, and they only happen at night. Yes, that's right, they wake me from my dreamy sleep with searing pain.

So I found out what I could from my old physiology textbook. Muscle cramps are prolonged involuntary contractions of individual or multiple skeletal muscles. During cramping, nerve action potentials (the electric signal that leads to movement) fire at abnormally high rates, a much greater rate than occurs during maximal voluntary contraction. The specific cause of this high activity is uncertain but is probably related to electrolyte imbalances in the extracellular fluid surrounding both the muscle and nerve fibers and changes in extracellular osmolarity, especially hypoosmolarity.

C'mon, people, stick with me here. Basically, what's happening is that individual muscles or small groups of muscles flex even though you're not moving your bones. And no one really knows for certain why that happens. It is linked to electrolyte imbalance, or too little amounts of minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium. You can get those kinds of chemicals in various foods or sports drinks, like Gatorade.

One study has linked muscle cramps to muscle fatigue and inadequate stretching. Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary tells me my nocturnal cramps may improve by taking quinine, a salt (which perhaps is an electrolyte?).

I'm not sure why cramps happen in one muscle more than others. Hmmm, when I get to heaven, that's at least one question I'll ask . . .

So. I guess I need to stretch more, just in case. And if anyone knows where I can get some quinine . . . ?

Thing I'm thankful for: My biology classes. Loved 'em.


Blogger Lauren said...

Try to eat bananas before you go to bed and drink water for dinner. If that doesn't work, you can buy qunine at any herbal store or maybe in a pharmacy.

And DO NOT drink any carbonated beverages at night.

--Dr. Duffey

8:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of cutting off your leg, check this out: I don't think you'll want to cut your leg off after seeing this.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

Gross. Remind me why I wanted to be a surgeon, again?

12:31 AM  
Blogger Jacki said...

Sara the same thing used to happen to me. Then I got off milk. That is a joke. No but it really did. When I was living in LA i would run stairs and i wouldn't stretch after and then that night I would wake up in the same pain. It would be the sore the next day too. Thanks for the info...

Thing I am THANKFUL for: My really smart sister-in-law

8:45 PM  

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