Do you suffer from foot, leg or calf cramps, forcing you to walk around and, if they occur in your sleep, making you leap from your bed and prance indecorously round the room?
In my experience they happen earlier in the night rather than later, and they can be very painful.
What is the reason for them in Chinese medicine?
There are several contributing causes including the following:
As you see, several syndromes include Blood.
Qi takes an infinite number of forms and in the body it works through Blood to nourish and moisten. If Blood is deficient, the tissues starve and aren’t repaired.
Blood itself is manufactured from
Consequently, if what you eat is either of poor quality or is not properly absorbed and transformed into Blood, cramps, including calf cramps may occur.
Magnesium and calf cramps This is where Western nutritional ideas come in, because nutritional science has identified various substances a lack of which may predispose you to cramps. These include Magnesium, for example, (but there are other possibilities).
Hence, many ‘Western’ approaches to dealing with cramps suggest you take Magnesium supplements. Gradually, nutritional scientists realised that Magnesium supplements on their own are absorbed only with difficulty (see a little story I tell patients here) if at all.
We now know that for better Magnesium absorption you should take it with Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin K2 and Boron, for example, though exactly how much of each is a moot point. This is a Western solution, not Chinese.
However, it does show that what you eat must be good food and contain adequate supplies of the right nutrients (of which over-farming may have depleted the soil) AND your body must absorb them properly to manufacture good Blood.
If your digestion works poorly, try adding to what you eat or drink a herb long used in Chinese medicine to help it. This is ginger root (not the dried or powdered variety, nor the crystallised version with sugar). Cut a thin slice and pour boiling water over it. Leave for a few minutes until it cools, then sip it from time to time. Taken with food, this helps digestion. That helps make better Blood. It’s worth a try!
A common problem that interferes with the above process of Blood manufacture is emotional and stress, giving Qi stagnation. However, there is more to this than ‘just’ emotional stress! Many other factors can produce this – see my book ‘Qi Stagnation – Signs of Stress‘.
Do not forget that it is possible to enjoy the excitement of stress but still to be harmed by it.
Also, if you do too many things at once and don’t get enough rest, your body can’t recover enough Qi to digest food. So don’t eat large meals when you are tired, or just before bedtime.
If you are tired and it’s partly because you haven’t eaten, as long as it’s not within 3 hours of going to bed, eat a snack first. This could be some nuts, or an oatcake or an apple: perhaps some soup.
Then – important! – wait a few minutes. That small amount of food won’t overcome your stomach and will produce some energy. That energy may be enough for a larger meal. (It’s probably the idea behind the ‘starter’ which we often eat before the main dish.)
If you are tired and it’s late, nearly bedtime, and you haven’t eaten for a long time, eat just the snack, not the full meal. When, after sleep, you wake up refreshed, only then eat a larger meal.
Stress also makes people eat faster, chew less, and rush off after eating to get on with the next job. These upset digestion. Teach yourself to eat at a more leisurely pace, chewing each mouthful well.
Some medications upset the way your body works and can deplete its resources, meaning Blood deficiency … meaning more cramps. In fact, medication is frequently a cause. The most dependable way of finding out which medication is your problem is to stop taking them in turn for a few days each, and see which is the culprit. But of course, discuss this with your health provider first! Don’t stop taking something that is preserving your life!
So calf cramps can have many causes.
Here there is often either Liver Blood Stasis and/or a history of injury. Injury prevents the smooth flow of Qi and Blood, starving the tissues and leading to calf cramps.
Numbness is a further extension of Blood deficiency.
Here you get what is called Empty Wind, which arises because the Blood, being deficient and not properly flowing, can’t prevent ‘bubbles’ appearing in it.
Please realise that these aren’t real bubbles!
Another way of thinking about it is this. If your blood is deficient, it cannot feed your nerves, so they don’t send your the correct messages, and you feel numb. By calling it Empty Wind, Chinese medicine identifies the underlying cause which is deficient Blood.
You may feel this as a tingling or slight quiver in your toes or muscles which warns you that they are working up to a cramp.
‘Mending’ the Blood deficiency leads to improvement in the numbness.
Ageing brings wisdom but, often, physical woes.
One of them is that our supply of Jing gradually reduces. This means that, among other problems, our digestion becomes less efficient. With a less efficient digestion (Spleen and Stomach) we don’t make such good Blood.
For more details read the linked pages detailed above.
In general, however, keeping fit helps.
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I’ve linked my caffeine intake to nocturnal calf cramping. Even one cup of green tea during the day is enough to cause cramping that night during sleep or at the point of awakening in the morning. I wish I could find a way to drink tea or coffee without the cramps but have not succeeded. Decaf (which is really only reduced caf) does not help.
That said, I find that massaging SI-3 immediately at the onset of cramps removes them.
BTW, great site!
Hi Bruce, I’m glad you like the site – thanks!
And thanks for your useful observation – based on personal experience – that even a small amount of caffeine causes cramps at night. I drink coffee only rarely, though I do like it, so haven’t noticed such a link, but do find that my sleep is affected, even several days afterwards. And your note about SI-3 is certainly worth knowing.
Thanks again! Jonathan
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