Diabetes Self-Management Blog

If you have diabetes, you may be all too familiar with the annoying phenomenon of waking from a sound sleep with a cramp in your calf. According to Karen Kemmis, PT, DPT, MS, CDE, writing on the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) Blog, these cramps can arise for a variety of reasons, including dehydration, potassium deficiency, neuropathy (nerve damage), or muscle overuse.

Although it is best if the cause of a person’s nighttime calf cramps can be determined and addressed, Kemmis notes that this is not always possible. In these cases, she has found that routinely stretching the calf muscles before going to bed often substantially reduces the number of cramps reported by her patients.

The stretch Kemmis suggests is known as a “standing gastrocnemius stretch” and involves placing your hands against a wall at shoulder height with the leg to be stretched behind you (with the toes facing forward and the heel on the floor), leaning forward (with the front leg bent and the back leg straight) until you feel a stretch in the calf. Kemmis recommends holding the stretch for 30 seconds without bouncing and doing one to two repetitions with each leg before going to bed.

For more detailed instructions on how to do the calf stretch, including images, see the piece “Those Annoying Calf Cramps” on the AADE Blog.

This blog entry was written by Web Editor Diane Fennell.

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Comments
  1. My dad occasionally woke with a leg cramp. He would prick the cramp with a pin to release it.

    Posted by Sol Gongola |
  2. I use a product called Calm-a magnesium supplement.
    Works great!

    Posted by Alice Ray |
  3. Thank you very much for sharing this information because I thought that I was doing something wrong to make this cramp come on. I have tried stretching them out against the cold bathtub, massage, walking sitting in chair with legs stretched out and some times it did work, so I am not trying this the next time.

    Posted by Ethel W |
  4. Cramps are the equivalent of a body part having a seizure. All of the messages your body sends to that part for movement (lifting your leg, etc.) get excited at once, and the body part freezes up in a cramp because the messages are conflicting and constant for a few moments. I thought the pin prick mentioned, in light of my learning about charley horses…cramps, makes more sense now. It probably is like a slap in the face of a hysterical person…it gives the area a sharp, intense sensation that may put the nerve impulses back on track. Interesting.

    Posted by Kathy B. |
  5. Thanks for this.
    It is very oppurtune.
    I have always had trouble with muscle craps - everywhere - since being a teenager to now.

    I have been off my meds, as my levels are stable for about a year; but recently for multiple times for the night I wake with cramps in my calf and ankle.

    Posted by Denise Fyffe |
  6. I am a diabetic (type II) and I don’t have calf cramps as much as anterior ankle cramps. They are just as you describe the calf cramps but very severe and difficult to “work out”. I am currently on Invokana and one of its side effects is dehydration. Any advice is welcomed.

    Posted by Manny B |
  7. I have tried a product called cal-mag, also potassium which my Dr. recommended and some homeopathic tablets for leg cramps. All work for a short while ( a couple of hours ) then wake me again.
    I also think sometimes its cAUSED BY NOT DRINKING ENOUGH WATER.
    Anne

    Posted by anne |
  8. Take a pinch of salt in quarter glass of water, relief in less then three minutes.

    Posted by Rahat Faruqi |
  9. I find that I don’t get cramps if I exercise. If I abstain from exercise for, say a week, I am sure to suffer severe cramping in the night. So I exercise! This includes stretching, but normally in the evening when I go for a walk or other exercise.

    Posted by Krishna Kumar |
  10. If I get a cramp in the back of my thigh or calf, I point my toes towards the ceiling with my heel on the bed and hold it there. This doesn’t work for a cramp in the thigh front.

    Posted by Wendy Adams |
  11. I use a product by Hylands called “Leg Cramps”. I put two under my tongue and the cramps are gone in less than a minute. It is wonderful and works every time. They also have a pill you can swallow but it takes a little longer to work. I am never without my bottle. They come in a bottle of 100 for around 8-9 dollars.

    Posted by linda |
  12. Quinine helps - tonic water has quinine fyi.

    Posted by Diane |
  13. I have been taking magnesium supplements twice a day, 400 mg each time, and my leg cramps have definitely decreased in number. I won’t say I never get them, but it’s now rare as opposed to nightly. I also had a physical therapist confirm that muscle dehydration will cause cramping, so I try to drink more water on a daily basis.

    Posted by Elaine |
  14. We both use an old Amish Formula from organic apple cider vinegar and all natural ginger and garlic juice.works good.
    Go to http://www.StopsLegCramps.com

    Posted by Sue and Gil |
  15. What causes cramps up in the top part of your leg late in yhe night? I usually end up crying the pain is so bad. you cant stand up you cant walk on it either its terrible. Seems like it last forever but not longer than ten minutes. Do you have any ideas? Thanks

    Posted by Lynette Stoney |
  16. try slipping ur thumb all the up under the top lip squeez outside with index finger HARD. hold till pain eases..works for me

    Posted by Lou |
  17. My understanding is that quinine is no longer recommended though.

    Posted by BK |
  18. addition..I forgot to say that u shud squeez in the center of the top of the top lip where the key is

    Posted by Lou |
  19. I used to have terrible cramps. Oddly enough, I don’t get nearly as many since starting to use a CPAP machine at night.

    Posted by Joan |
  20. Any suggestions for calf cramps that come on after walking for exercise for approx. 30 min?
    I have tried the type of stretch described in this article, as well as drinking a LOT of water before and during exercise, making sure my shoes are suited for exercise walking, and trying to make sure I don’t get too warm during exercise. I sit most of the day at my job but I stand and stretch my legs often during the day.
    Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thx.

    Posted by Kathy |
  21. I have tried all of these, except the stretching. I will do that tonite. Most of them worked for a limited period of time. It may be old school, but worked and still works for me is a can of spray deodorant on my nitestand. No, I do not spray my leg. I just roll the cold can across the cramped muscle a few times and it releases. Cheap, but it works. Don’t use an empty can. It’s no longer cold.

    Posted by Dan Zorn |
  22. I am type 2 diabetic and frequently get night time leg cramps so severe I can hardly get out of bed and walk to the kitchen. I take a shot of apple cider vinegar right from the bottle. You can chase it with anything, water, sweet tea helps ’cause it’s really nasty, but it works. Less than a minute, usually. It also helps to keep it in the icebox. I’ve gotten so used to it over the years I don’t even use a chaser anymore.
    I think I might try that Hylands product “Leg Cramps”, though.

    Posted by Steve Lindhurst |
  23. There’s a spray that can be bought at walgreens & Walmart called pain stop. Just spray on cramping leg & rub in pain gone right away. It’s wonderful!

    Posted by Helen Turner |
  24. I find I get leg cramps from MSG

    Posted by Barb |
  25. I have had type II diabetes for about 20 yrs. and have controlled it with diet, exercise, oral medications. I have also had neuropathy for all of those years and am taking medications for that.

    I’ve found that low potassium is the cause of muscle and other (i.e. on the top of my lower leg, my ankles, toes, etc.) cramps. Since I take meds that lower my potassium level (I’m a kidney stone producer) my Urologist has me taking Potassium Citrate ER to increase my potassium levels. Also Crestor and other cholesterol lowering drugs also cause me to have sever cramps in the calves of my legs along with other cramps.

    Ken

    Posted by Ken Bowling |
  26. Yes, leg cramps can be very debilitating. So much so that I can hardly get out of bed. I use an ice bag on the cramp and it goes away in just a few minutes. it also eliminates the after pain.

    Posted by Marky |
  27. Start taking CO Q 10 for leg cramps. It has worked great for me and my husband. Find it in the vitamin section. Also if you cannot drink vinegar straight try dill pickle juice.

    Posted by susan |
  28. My mother-in-law recently started drinking a tall glass of quinine [I believe same as "tonic"] water before bed, and she says that has completely stopped her nightime leg cramps!

    Posted by Allen |
  29. YELLOW MUSTARD, YELLOW MUSTARD, YELLOW MUSTARD. EAT YELLOW MUSTARD. I used to get leg cramps every night until I started eating yellow mustard on my hot dogs. I believe a certain spice in yellow mustard helps prevent cramps. It’s worth a try. Here’s to no more leg cramps!

    Posted by MOFFIT HARTLEY, JR. |
  30. The sure fire way to stop muscle cramps is to drink pickle juice. I keep a jar in the fridge. It works quickly and has never failed me. My mother in law shared this with me when I was pregnant.

    Posted by Alison Tripp |
  31. I too have heard about diet tonic water before bedtime but more recently I have heard that pickles or the pickle juice helps with the cramps. I have tried the pickle juice and it did help with the cramps. Instead of taking straight vinegar you could try the pickles?

    Posted by adiela |
  32. I am a Type 2 Diabetic and started having nighttime leg cramps when I entered menopause. I believe when my hormones went chaotic that upset my whole body chemistry including my blood sugar control. I tried nearly every suggestion that has been listed and the “Ivory Soap” suggestion over nine years and nothing took away the leg cramps at night. When I switched my bedtime snack from a bowl of ice cream to a chicken leg and a green salad, that night I did not have any leg cramps. For me… going to bed with my blood sugar at a good normal level was the key. I have experimented with the bedtime snack and as long as it is protein, high fiber, low to no carb I do not have leg cramps at night. This works for me.

    Posted by Lillie |
  33. Lots of great ideas. Thanks everyone for responding! My problem is more extensive than just leg cramps. My toes draw up. Just one toe will start drawing. It looks so strange. (It will draw towards one side or the other not in a ball.) It has been happening for a couple years. Last Saturday when I was standing for a longer period than I usually stand–I ironed for about 2 hours–one area of my toes would draw. I would get it to stop then another area would start. This happened about 5 times then my arch drew. That was very painful! It happened about 4 times. I was in tears. I feel like all of this is related. The last time I went to the doctor he said for me to start taking magnesium supplements. I bought some and before I started taking them I looked on line and discovered that it causes diarrhea. I couldn’t handle that. What else can I do? (Thanks in advance for any suggestions anyone might be able to offer.)

    Posted by Mrs Sunshine |
  34. I didn’t include…I am a relatively newly diagnosed Type II diabetic.

    Posted by Mrs Sunshine |
  35. I’m surprised that no one mentioned the old “bar of soap between the sheets” trick. You can Google it and see for yourself. I just started trying it. So far — so good. Thanks.

    Posted by Randy Prewitt |
  36. The successful method I have used for years is to wet a washcloth with very hot water and place it on the cramp. It works very quickly. Just keep rewetting the cloth with HOT water until it goes away. This works wherever the cramp is.

    Posted by Wanda Clapp |
  37. For myself, I find that if I do the stretch listed above for about 1-2 minutes for each leg before I go to bed, I can sleep through the night without any problem, and get out of bed without being in pain when I stand up

    Posted by Thomas Stanley |
  38. Hi, Randy. I did mention the “bar of soap” in my post when I said “the Ivory Soap suggestion.” I just didn’t include ‘how’ to use it which is what you included…”between the sheets trick.” Thanks for including that info. It didn’t work for me but many people say it works for them. No person with diabetes reacts the same to the same approach. We are all so different.

    Hi, Mrs. Sunshine. I’ve had the problems with toes cramping too. I find that slow stretching helps. Perhaps putting your foot/feet in a small tub of hot (but not scalding) water would help the muscles to relax. Thanks, Wanda, for the hot water suggestion.

    Posted by Lillie |
  39. Taking magnesium has helps me with muscle cramps all over my body!

    Posted by Janet Beamenderfer |
  40. Although I am the one with type 2 diabetes, my husband is more prone to leg cramps. I don’t remember where we learned it, but a little tonic water at bedtime eliminates cramps. It is a blessing.

    Posted by Mary Marney |
  41. I have used a bar of soap in my bed for a number of years and it helps. I recently have been using lavendar essential oil over my knee and back of knee to see if that will help.Occasionally I have had a cramp in the back of my thigh….so far doing okay. You can use any kind of bar soap.I have had type 2 diabetes for a number of years.

    Posted by Karen |
  42. For leg cramps, I take a big tablespoon of mustard from the refrigator. The crampa stops in less than 5 minutes. Been doing this since I saw a story years ago that what some people were doing. It does work.

    Posted by Frank Meyer |
  43. The VERY HOT wet compress works every time for me, no matter where the cramp is. At 84 years of age, I can’t easily reach some of the places. Because of the pain, I usually manage because I know it will work. Lack of potassium in the body is one cause of the cramps, I guess. My potassium is too high so I can’t use that to help.

    Posted by Wanda Clapp |
  44. Hello, Mary M. There is quinine in the tonic water that you drink. Quinine is said to help with leg cramps. I’ve used a product called “Hyland’s Leg Cramps” for years. It also has quinine in it. I get it from Walmart Pharmacy supplements section. Frank, I’ve never used mustard. That’s a new one. 5 minutes with leg cramps feels like an eternity. I appreciate everyone’s suggestions.

    Posted by Lillie |
  45. I have found that drinking Quinine water before .going to bed or taking a Quinine supplement will help reduce nightime cramp and hydration is also important.

    Posted by Chris |

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