Leg cramps are most commonly experienced in the calf or the toes and can be very uncomfortable. A cramp can be brought on by the cold, strenuous exercise, or a calcium deficiency, to name a few causes. In Chinese medicine theory, however, leg cramps are said to arise from the energies of cold and damp stagnating in the body’s meridians — channels through which the life-energy known as qi is said to flow. There are several acupuncture points that are documented to alleviate leg cramps. One is found in the face and there are three others around the back of the knee, which can be especially effective for home use.
How to stimulate your acupuncture points
The Renzhong point (人中穴 — Water Trough) is on the Governing Vessel meridian (督脉穴位 — Du Mai) and is located in the first third of the distance between the nose and the upper lip. Pressing this point firmly is said to boost the yang (masculine, hot) energy of the body, which is linked with vitality. Keeping continuous pressure on this point with your finger can be effective when used as initial relief from leg cramping. However, stimulating the Renzhong point for a sustained period of time is difficult, as it can interfere with one’s breathing. So, after initial relief, it is advised to move on to stimulate the acupuncture points around the popliteal line, behind one’s knee.
The bladder meridian (膀胱经) and the kidney meridian (肾经) both pass behind one’s knee, which contains three important acupuncture points. One is the Weiyang (委阳) point of the bladder meridian, located on the popliteal line, at the medial border of the tendon of the biceps femoris. The second is the Weizhong (委中) point, also called the bladder meridian, is located at the midpoint of the transverse crease of the popliteal fossa, between the tendons of biceps femoris and semitendinosus. The third is the Yingu (阴谷) point of the kidney meridian, located on the medial side of the knee joint between the tendons of semitendinosus and semimembranosus.
Massaging the area behind the knee in a tapping motion is said to detoxify the body and remove excess fluid, as well as regulate the kidneys’ energies of yin and yang. It is also thought to improve the circulation of blood and qi energy in the kidneys, which in turn can alleviate leg cramps, especially if caused by coldness and dampness. One recommended method of massage is to hold one hand open with the fingers against the back of your knee, and with the other hand clenched, repeatedly tap the area behind your knee, over your other hand, to stimulate all of the acupuncture points at the same time.
Other causes of leg cramps
- Excessive exercising; not warming up the muscles properly
- Severe emotional stress
- Calcium deficiency
- Motor neuron disease; spinal nerve root lesions; peripheral neuropathy
- Side effects to some medications, especially those that lower blood pressure or blood lipids
- Chronic disease
How to avoid leg cramps
Keep your legs warm in cold weather and while sleeping. If you suffer from cramps while sleeping, do some stretching and warm the legs before going to bed. Also, warm-up your muscles sufficiently and stretch your body before exercising; avoid jumping into strenuous exercising.
Make sure you get enough calcium. Take recommended daily requirements into consideration, and listen to your body’s cravings and needs. Adults typically need 1000mg a day and requirements are usually higher for adolescents, pregnant women, and those above the age of 50. Ensure sufficient levels of vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 to help the body absorb calcium. Also, ensure good levels of magnesium.
Translated by Jean Chen and edited by Emiko Kingswell