Gramps Gets Night Cramps

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I not uncommonly fall asleep on the love seat in the front room at bedtime, especially if the wood stove is glowing and radiating sleepiness into the darkness.

As usual, last night I woke up after an hour or so, and proceeded to head off to bed, after undressing. I was down to my Carhartt work pants, and do not remember doing anything particularly unusual, movement-wise.

And at once my left leg locked in the most violent and unrelenting cramp I have ever had. The inability to break this spasm was due to two reasons: it was in a muscle that never in my life had cramped before, and worse, I was trapped with my pants around my ankles.

Vastus Medialis Muscle: How to do vastus medialis exercises
Yes, these are my legs! The vastus is the “teardrop” shaped muscle near the knee.

The cramp was in my medial adductor–not in the rectus femoris of the quadriceps femoris that runs straight down the front of the leg to the knee. The rectus femoris is not an uncommon site for leg cramps–that and the gastric-soleus “calf muscle”. I think most everybody has these muscles seize up on them at least once in a lifetime–some of us more frequently than that, unfortunately, because the pain is like no other.

And so in the first seconds of the sudden out-of-the-blue cramp, even in my groggy state, it occurred to me that I should do a quad stretch for the rectus femoris. Since if lifts the knee, the stretch is to the opposite–to straighten the knee and move forward with the foot on the involved side firmly on the floor, putting tension across the front of the thigh. Or if possible, do the runner’s stretch by bending the knee and pulling the heel towards your butt.

Vastus Medialis Stretches. Approved use

But the vastus (sometimes referred to as the VMO–vastus medialis obliqus) works to adduct (pull the leg toward the midline) and flex (bend) the thigh. To stretch it requires the opposite motions: abduction and extension. Move the leg out away from the body and back.

That is very helpful knowledge, but worthless is you have pants around your ankles. I would have certainly tried the runner’s stretch, but was miserably hobbled, wanting to scream, with Ann sleeping blissfully unaware in the next room.

I braced myself on two pieces of furniture in the dark room. Nothing I could do would stop the agony. It seemed to last for 15 minutes, but might have been 10. Even so, the pain over this vast eternity of suffering was sufficient to make me diaphoretic–breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling like I might pass out.

The spasm cascade finally burned itself out and I finally was able to wobble into bed, and lie there for an hour, in fear of more spasms. I shook uncontrollably, as if I had the chills–which I think was a kind of mild shock, that at last abated and I slept through the night.

In the midst of this torture I tried to explain why such spasms, and came up with the first conclusion that I had come down with Lyme disease, sure enough, from the recently embedded tick I’d found a few days earlier. Now, I think it was due to dehydration from spending four hours with the surveyors walking hard terrain and not drinking the water I took with me.

So, given the extreme unpleasantness of my experience, I truly hope than no one I know ever has a severe, sustained cramp in their vastus medialis muscle. But if you’re going to do this anyway, take off your pants first.

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Butt wait: There’s More!

Seems I am not the only one in the world to experience what is described universally by my fellow sufferers as “almost unbearable pain that made me scream and think I was going to pass out.”

You can read the testimonials here:

Inner thigh cramps that make me pass out | Undiagnosed Abdominal Pain discussions | Body & Health Conditions center |

And so in addition to getting your pants off before cramping, according to these victims:

[su_list icon=”icon: retweet” icon_color=”#2950bc”]1) chew an aspirin
2) use moist heat (hot bath)
3) take a potassium pill
4) drink tonic water (that contains quinine)
5) drink pickle juice
6) and don’t eat gummy bears[/su_list]

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. i feel for you, fred. cramps are my occasional night visitors, and i, too, find sleep elusive in the aftermath. Have I told you of the one that woke me, cussing, threshing at my sleeping bag in the cold night, with nearby tents filled with pre-teen church kids and our preacher?