Years ago, when a boyfriend of mine spent the night at my apartment for the first time (nothing happened, I swear!), he awoke to someone screaming. He jumped out of the bed in full combat mode, ready to attack whatever hideous creature was making those awful sounds. That hideous creature, of course, was me. “Help me! Help me!” I was shouting. “My legs! My legs!” Both of my calves were in painful cramps. If you have ever had one leg cramp, you know that you can pull yourself up and stretch it out. But double leg cramps means you are basically paralyzed, unable to maneuver yourself anywhere.
I gotta hand it to that boyfriend, he came through in crisis — he immediately grabbed my feet and pushed my toes toward me, slowly relieving the cramps. Surprisingly, he stuck around and got used to the middle-of-the-night cramp drill and even married me eventually, despite all my weird ailments!
The leg cramps were worse at night, but also occurred during the day. They came on stronger if I was dehydrated or if I drank beer. Sitting for a long time in one position could bring it on, such as the time I was on airplane returning from a weekend volleyball tournament, where days were spent playing in the hot sun and nights were spent in the bars. The plane had just landed, and as everybody rose to get ready to exit, both my quad muscles in my legs cramped. It was so painful that I involuntarily began shouting profanities (namely, the f-word). I looked up and saw a sea of faces looking down at me. “Leg cramps” I said in a little apologetic voice to the crowd. I looked over at my friend sitting next to me for support but she could only hide her own face and her giggles.
I not only had leg cramps, but I also got cramps in my hands, feet and a few times the muscle between my chin and neck cramped after I yawned (I didn’t even know I had a muscle there until it popped out!)
So what was causing these cramps? Not potassium deficiency, as everyone liked to believe. “Eat more bananas!” people would say. So I ate more bananas. I even drank tonic water because it contains quinine which was used to treat nocturnal leg cramps (now the FDA warns against using it). I had my potassium levels checked and they were normal.
It wasn’t until I had to change to a gluten-free diet after being diagnosed with celiac disease that the leg cramps went away. What a relief! Now I think that the cramps may have been related to my iron deficient anemia (caused by celiac), but no one is sure. All I know is that I don’t miss them one bit (and neither does my husband)!