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Severe Leg Cramp
June 2001

Q. My 80-year-old mother suffers from severe leg cramps at night almost nightly. Is there anything she can do about it? She has recently had all kinds of cardiac tests, a (not related to this problem) and has checked out clear. Is quinine a viable step?

A. I assume the cramps are in her calf, as these are a much more common form of leg cramps. Quinine has been used for decades (perhaps longer) as a treatment, and is generally considered to be quite effective. On the other hand, the form of quinine that was used for leg cramps (Quinamm) is sometimes hard to find. There are, however, other forms of quinine.

In any patient, especially one that is elderly, I prefer a non-medicinal approach first. This works very well for calf cramps. Quite simply, stretching the legs three times a day (especially when going to bed) usually permanently resolves the leg cramps after just four or five days. The calf stretching is done by standing an armıs length away from a wall, keeping one heel on the ground, and moving the alternate foot back to provide balance. Then, the patient just leans forward towards the wall while keeping the forward leg straight. This will cause some mild pulling in the calf. If done gently and persistently over several days, the cramps are usually gone.

Obviously, both legs should be stretched and not just the one leg that is causing the most problem.

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