Muscle Spasms and Cramps:
Nutritional Causes, Treatment Remedies & Prevention
Provided there are no neurological causes such as multiple sclerosis (MS), spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, or
stroke, there are various options to resolve either an occasional acute bout, or ongoing chronic occurrences of
muscle spasms and cramps.
What causes Muscle Spasms?
Exercise-induced spasms are among the most common causes -- particularly an overuse of muscles during
a strenuous workout, or under hot, humid conditions, which can affect especially those muscles that have
not been well trained for the task. Muscle cramping can also occur when remaining in the same position for
an extended period of time, while more severe and prolonged spasms (e.g. neck spasm) may result from
trauma such as whiplash.
Muscle spasms can also develop from electrolyte (mineral) imbalances, or an inadequate blood supply due to
vascular disease. Organically induced spasms of the smooth muscles may involve intestinal walls (colic), the
bile duct (biliary attack), or the passing of a kidney stone (ureter). A muscle spasm may also be triggered by
allergies or irritants affecting the throat or esophageal sphincter.
How does one treat a Muscle Spasm?
Should a skeletal muscle go into spasm, the best advice is usually just to stretch and massage the affected
muscle until any acute pain is relieved. If there has been some damage to a muscle, a brief use of pain meds,
or the use of muscle relaxants for chronic cases is generally recommended, however instead of just masking
the symptoms, the cause of ongoing muscle spasms should be isolated and resolved.
Acute back spasms, triggered as a result of injuries, or chronic back spasms resulting from a curvature of the
spine (scoliosis), may benefit from chiropractic adjustments, physiotherapy, ultrasound therapy, acupuncture,
or needle-less electro-acupuncture - depending on the type of medical system one is most comfortable with.
Abnormal Mineral Ratios are also capable of affecting spinal alignment, or they can lead to scoliosis over time
and subsequently trigger upper, middle, or lower back spasms, in which case drug therapy, or frequent visits
to a physiotherapist, chiropractor, or acupuncturist can become frustrating, since the treatment won't last.
However, once a nutritional balance is established, the spine is less likely to go out of alignment and trigger
muscle spasms, cramps, and/or related health problems.
Since calcium is quite low in ratio to magnesium, supplementing 500 mg of elemental calcium per day quickly
resolved the muscle cramping - but only symptomatically!
The right strategy of course was to raise Sodium, since continuing to supplement calcium would only lead to
a greater increase in cellular magnesium over time (unless potassium is high also), which in turn would lower
sodium even more and result in all sorts of additional medical problems (see "Mineral Ratios" for the reasons).
While using extra salt would work for many individuals, it generally does not prevent muscle spasms with low-
aldosterone types (whose sodium levels are chronically low - even with high sodium intake), so supplements
such as Choline Bitartrate are indicated instead to raise sodium levels, which in time will lower magnesium
and thus correct an individual's calcium / magnesium ratio also. In the above case, a silica supplement
- which also inhibits magnesium - was another important complementary remedy.
Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda) or Sodium Citrate ("Eno") can be helpful for low sodium-related muscle
cramps and spasms as well. They, or similar buffering agents are used by some athletes to combat muscle
fatigue and to increase performance by raising muscle and plasma pH, however when increasing amounts
from a recommended 0.3 g per kg of body mass to what some trainers consider to be an optimal intake of
0.6 g per kg, there is a risk to induce muscle spasms, stomach cramps, and/or a variety of other side effects.
Are chronic Muscle Spasms a warning sign of other medical problems?
Since low calcium and/or low magnesium-induced muscle spasms go hand in hand with disturbances of bone
mineral metabolism, it may be worthwhile to be evaluated for other, possibly more serious medical problems
such as Osteopenia or Osteoporosis, whereby additional preventive supplements (e.g. Vitamin D and/or
Vitamin K), or other dietary adjustments may be indicated. Those suffering from leg or calf cramps that are
due to insufficient potassium intake should be aware of - or at least use their symptoms as a warning sign -
that ongoing low potassium levels increase the risk for Cardiovascular Disease and/or Stroke.
Are there any Remedies for "Restless Leg Syndrome?"
Some practitioners recommend 10+ mg of Biotin a day for both, various types of muscle cramping, and also
for "Restless Leg Syndrome" (which is a neurological disorder), since some dialysis patients suffering from
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) have tested deficient in that B-Vitamin. In some cases, the symptoms of Rest-
less Leg Syndrome can be attributed to Iron or Folate deficiency, resulting in lower dopamine production.
"Sleep Starts" (myoclonic or hypnagogic jerks) describes a type of involuntary muscle jerking that takes
place just before drifting off to sleep. While felt by most people at some point in their lives, these sudden
muscle twitches or jolts don't generally interfere with someone's sleep unless they occur on a regular, nightly
basis. When they start to take place seconds apart, they will seriously affect a patient's ability to fall, or
remain asleep. Some individuals experience shorter bouts that only last a few weeks, however other people
are less fortunate and may suffer "sleep starts" for several months, or on an ongoing basis.
There are some known medical conditions associated with myoclonus, including brain or spinal cord injury,
Parkinson's disease, Tourette syndrome, multiple sclerosis, stroke, epilepsy, drug or chemical poisoning,
organ damage, and others, however "sleep starts" is considered to be a type of Periodic Limb Movement
Disorder that as of yet lacks a specific medical cause, treatment, or has a known relationship to a specific
medical condition, although females are affected more than males, partly due to hormonal fluctuations that
seem to aggravate this condition around the time of their menstrual cycle.
Standard treatments for "sleep starts" consist of clonazepam therapy (a benzodiazepine type of tranquilizer),
which - while able to help the symptoms, invites the usual long-term dependency this class of drugs is known
for. Some patients require additional drugs, or drug combinations that may include barbiturates, sodium
valproate, phenytoin, or primidone.
Unfortunately, nutritional remedies (as listed above) that are helpful for conventional muscle spasms and
cramps do not offer any benefits for most types of myoclonus, however Taurine in the 1,500 mg to 6,000 mg
a day range has been shown be somewhat helpful for "sleep starts," provided reasonable care is taken at the
same time to avoid stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine, and excessive intake of sugar, which are known to
worsen the symptoms. ¤
How is Calcium related to Muscle Spasms or Cramps?
Calcium can be an effective nutritional or natural remedy for muscle spasms, particularly in many nocturnal
cases (during sleep). The extra requirements for calcium may be a result of a very high protein intake, high
phosphate levels (kidney disease, poor diet), hormonal diseases, nutritional imbalances, intestinal conditions
(celiac disease) that interfere with calcium absorption, prescribed medications that promote calcium loss, or
supplementing too much of the wrong nutritional remedies, such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, zinc, or lecithin.
An excessive Vitamin B-Complex intake is also capable of causing "burning muscles" or chronic muscle tension.
Calcium levels are further affected by blood-thinning drugs, and nutritional supplements with blood-thinning
properties such as Vitamin E, omega / fish oils, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, saw palmetto, bromelain..., as well as
pomegranate (and some berry) juices, some fiber supplements, a higher intake of grains, alcohol, and oxalic
acid sources such as Swiss chards, rhubarb, spinach, beets, cocoa products..., which all have a lowering
effect on calcium levels.
How can I tell if I need - or don't need extra Calcium?
If no resources are available to measure cellular calcium (blood or serum calcium levels cannot be used to
determine dietary calcium requirements), one could supplement 300 mg - 500 mg of calcium two to three
may help with the decision as well).
If the muscle spasms improve or subside, one can assume that a calcium deficiency
may have existed, and a safe, daily amount - sufficient to relieve the spasms, without
overdosing - and the right type will have to be determined.
For instance, calcium carbonate is better for soft stools or higher stomach acid levels,
while calcium citrate is usually better for lower acid levels and those with a tendency
for constipation. Vitamin D3 requirements can be assessed through blood tests, where
its levels should be optimized to more than 75 nmol/L as well.
If muscle cramping gets worse when supplementing extra calcium, then high calcium levels may be suspect
and extra co-factors may be required to make calcium more bioavailable. Remedies to choose from include a
higher daily intake of Vitamin C, Lecithin, Omega 3, Protein, Magnesium, and others. Increasing stomach
acid (if low) with supplements, or using lemon water with meals are other options.
A grinding noise when doing knee bends or squats can be another indication of excessive calcium retention.
Provided there is no injury or major joint degeneration, the grinding noise will disappear once calcium levels
are normalized, which can also be confirmed with before and after cellular calcium measurements.
How does one prevent left-sided or right-sided Muscle Spasms?
If caused by a mineral deficiency, one-sided leg cramps or calf spasms can help with the decision of what to
supplement, whereby the left side is generally indicative of extra Calcium requirements, while the right side
is usually an indication of extra Magnesium being needed. If right-sided muscle cramps respond to calcium
(rather than magnesium or similar remedies), dehydration is suspect, and extra sodium or potassium may be
When breastfed babies suffer from medical problems that are due to nutritional deficiencies, their symptoms
are commonly relieved when their nursing mother supplements extra amounts of these deficient nutrients.
Muscle spasms are no exception, although thus far, I have only encountered left-sided leg cramps in those
infants, with subsequent measurements confirming a calcium deficiency in both, the mother and the baby.
A Calcium + Magnesium combination (+ Vitamin D) may be necessary to get relief and prevent cramping
when the left and right side is involved as a result of both minerals being deficient.
Which Remedies are helpful if poor Circulation causes Muscle Cramping?
While electrolyte or other nutritional imbalances can be a cause or contributing factor for cramping of one's
toes, or toe spasms also, if one never experiences spasms or cramps in other parts of the body, then they
may occur as a result of poor circulation, wearing tight shoes, or sitting in a particular position (car, theater,
or plane) for longer periods of time. Briefly exercising or massaging one's toes, or
taking a short walk usually provides relief and resolves the problem.
If poor circulation is the cause of muscle spasms, Vitamin E, Omega / Fish Oils,
Gingko biloba, or other remedies (see above) may be a treatment option for their
vasodilating (Vitamin E), and/or blood-thinning properties, provided one takes into
account that a higher intake of blood-thinning remedies also reduces calcium levels.
Which Remedies are helpful for Exercise-induced Muscle Spasms or Cramps?
Overuse or injuries are common causes for painful muscle contractions, which can involve neck, chest, back,
abdominal, calf, and front & back thigh muscles, and they can be experienced in one's hands, arms, and toes.
After stretching and massaging the affected muscle, consuming foods or beverages containing Lactic Acid is
one strategy to reduce muscle tension when working out, despite the buildup of lactic acid in muscle tissue
during strenuous exercise being actually a common cause of muscle cramps. This happens from insufficient
oxygen not being able to oxidize lactic acid, which would otherwise get rid of it from muscle.
Inosine and Creatine supplements can act as preventive remedies to reduce the buildup of lactic acid in
muscle, while MSM not only helps prevent the buildup of lactic acid, but it is also effective in eliminating it.
As exercise tolerance increases from repeated training, it takes increasingly longer before lactic acid builds
up in muscle, so there is less of a chance of muscle cramps to develop. Lactic acid is found in a number of
foods and beverages, and it is also commercially added to increase their acidity (olives, sauerkraut, cheese,
beer, soft drinks, pickles...). Lactic acid-containing drinks can serve as valuable fluid replacement remedies
for athletes before, during, and after competitive training and exercise.
Sodium and Potassium imbalances also tend to become more of a problem during, or after physical activity,
but less so during rest, so for exercise-induced hand, arm or leg cramps or spasms, their addition in the form
of a sports drink, or through additional Sodium / Potassium supplementation may be a consideration -
however sufficient hydration (taking in enough fluid) is most important before, during, and after a workout!
In practice, not all cases are that straightforward. The following example presents the chemistry of someone
who experienced severe muscle cramps in his quadriceps (front of the thigh) within only a few minutes on an
exercise bike. It also demonstrates a seemingly possible - but in the long-term incorrect - interchangeability
of similar-acting minerals (calcium versus sodium in this case):