Cantaloupe can help relieve calf pain
caused by potassium deficiency.

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Last updated August 5, 2017, originally published September 25, 2015
By Susan Callahan, Contributing Columnist

Recently, Michael Courtenay, a 79 year-old retired doctor from the
quaint town of Flower Pot Cottage in Adderbury UK, mused over some
of the aches and pains of old age that even he could not diagnose. One
of them was calf aches, which seemed to start each night as he sat at
the edge of his bed ready to go to sleep.  That started me thinking, why
is it that some many of us experience aches in our calves, especially as
we get older?  

Calf pain is a common complaint, especially as we get older. The calf
plays a critical role in mobility, but it is one of the muscles that few of
us take the time to intentionally condition.  Like all muscles, our calf
muscles lose mass as we age, reducing its capacity to perform daily
functional tasks and making it more susceptible to injury. But aside
from injury, what medical conditions can cause calf pain? What causes
calf pain even when you are resting? When is calf pain serious?

The Importance of Your Calf Muscle

Your calf muscle is technically  called the “gastrocnemius medialis
muscle”. This  is the long muscle that starts just above your knee and
extends to your ankle. This is the muscle that bulges in your calf. This
muscle has a predominance of fast twitch fibers which help you run and

When you exercise, changes in potassium levels in your bloodstream
excite muscle reflexes, triggering increases in how hard your heart
pumps and even how much oxygen your lungs take in and exhale
(pulmonary output), according to a  1984 study conducted a research
team led by Dr. Kenneth J Rybicki of Barnes-Jewish
Hospital/Washington University in St. Louis.

Intermittent Claudication Causes Calf Pain

Intermittent claudication is a condition in which you experience pain,
particularly in your calf muscles, because of insufficient flow of oxygen
caused by artery blockage. You usually experience intermittent
claudication when you exercise.   The pain usually goes away when you
rest.  In advanced cases of Intermittent claudication, you can
experience pain in your calf even when you are resting.

If you already have blocked arteries in your lower legs, doing anything
which further constricts blood flow --- crossing your legs, sitting,
especially in cramped positions, or wearing tight underwear --- can
trigger the pain in  your calf.

Having intermittent claudication puts you at higher risk for heart
disease. In fact, those with intermittent claudication have just as high a
risk for heart disease as those who have had a previous heart attack,
according to a 2010 study from the Institut Universitaire de Cardiologie
et Pneumologie de Quebec.

The Quebec study examined 4,376  men over a period of 24 years. By
the end of that period,, 300 of the men had developed intermittent
claudication. The study confirmed that you are at greater risk for
intermittent claudication if you smoke, have high blood pressure, a
family history of cardiovascular disease,high cholesterol or diabetes. By
far, smoking was the biggest risk factor. Smoking 20 or more cigarettes
a day raised your risk for intermittent claudication by 4.6 times.  But
there is hope, Those men who stopped smoking saw their  risk for
intermittent claudication fall to about the same level as non-smokers.

Having high systolic (top number) blood Pressure raises your risk for
intermittent claudication calf pain by 2.6 times. Having high diastolic
(bottom number) blood pressures raises the risk by 1.4 times. Diabetes
raises your risk for calf pain caused by intermittent claudication by 2.7

Surprisingly, the study found that your body mass index does not
increase your risk for intermittent claudication related calf pain.

Remedies for Calf Pain Caused by Intermittent Cladication in Your Leg

1. Put on Your Walking Shoes

Walking until you reach the point of calf pain  is one of the best
treatments for claudication, numerous studies have found, including a
2013 study from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. You should walk
at the intensity that causes the pain within 3 to 5 minutes. This type of
walking exercise will gradually increase the amount you can walk
before the onset of pain.

You may also find relief if you incorporate gentle stretching into your
waling routine. Sit on a chair and, with your legs out in front, reach for
your ankles. As you get more limber, try sitting on the floor, with your
feet together, and reaching gently towards your feet. You will feel a
pull in the hamstrings. Easy does it, and do not stretch to the point of
pain, just to the point of a gentle pull. Over time, the hamstrings will
loosen up. Stretching will improve your walking speed, length and help
prevent injury.

Lower Your Salt and Fat and Eat More Fiber  

Dietary changes may also help. In general, scientists have observed
that people with intermittent claudication have poor diets that are high
in saturated fat, salt and low in fiber..  Those suffering from calf pain
from intermittent claudication should be “ encouraged to reduce
consumption of dietary fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium and
to increase fiber and vitamin intakes”, according to a 2011 from
Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center. Specifically, this Oklahoma
study suggests that sufferers follow the diet recommendations of the
National Cholesterol Education Program and the Institute of Medicine, a
part of the National Institutes of health.

These health authorities recommend that you reduce the amount of
animal fat  (butter, lard) that you eat in general.  You should prefer
vegetable oil and semi-liquid margarine over butter but you should
keep your total fat calories to between 25% and 35% of your total
calories each day.

Your salt intake should be under 2400 mg/ day. You should also aim
for 28 to 32 grams of fiber each day.

Deep Vein Thrombosis Can Cause Calf Pain

Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot deep in your leg.  When the clot
happens closer to the surface it is sometime called surface thrombosis.
The danger with any thrombosis is that the blood clot can break away,
travel to your heart and cause a heart attack or to your brain and cause
a stroke.

Although deep vein thrombosis pain can start anywhere there is a clot,
the pain often starts in your calf. The calf pain may or may not be
accompanied by swelling in the leg where you feel pain or, in rarer
cases, in both legs.

Risk factors for deep vein thrombosis are sitting in a cramped position
such as on a long plane flight.  In fact, deep vein thrombosis is
sometimes called jokingly "economy class disease".  But even sitting at
home in a cramped position or wearing a cast on your legs,
your legs at the knee or doing anything, really, that chokes off the
blood supply to your legs, can cause a thrombosis.  

Deep vein thrombosis is a serious health event, which raises your risk
for death not just immediately after the thrombosis but can keep your
mortality risk elevated for 8 years afterwards, according to a 2012
study from the University of Leiden in The Netherlands.  Needless to
say, you should see a doctor to properly diagnose deep vein
thrombosis. The current guideline for thrombosis diagnosis by the
American College of Chest Physicians calls for a case-by-case decision
as to what assessment tools are needed.  But, in general, your doctor
may order an ultrasound to see the blockage or use a moderately
sensitive or highly sensitive D-dimer test or perform a venography.

The habits that help to prevent thrombosis are staying active, avoiding
cramped positions or fixed positions where your legs can't move,
drinking plenty of water to keep your blood thin, avoiding smoking
and  eating a diet that encourages blood circulation (vegetables, fish,
moderate caffeine).  

It's worth underscoring the danger that smoking as a risk for deep vein
thrombosis. Smoking narrows your arteries making blockage more
likely. In addition to smoking, living near major traffic roads where air
pollution is high also raises your risk for deep vein thrombosis,
according to a 2009 study conducted jointly by researchers from
IRCCS Maggiore Policlinico Hospital in Milan, Italy and Harvard School
of Public Health.

Potassium Deficiency Can Make Your Calves Ache

Potassium is active throughout your body in every cell of your body.
Potassium is responsible for muscle twitch.  When you don’t have
enough calcium in your body, your muscles --- especially the fast
twitch-rich muscles in your calf --- tend to cramp and you experience

If your calf pain is related to potassium deficiency, you should first take
a look at your diet. The recommended daily amount of potassium
recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board is 4700 mg for adults
but most Americans only consume 2640 mg per day, according to  the
US Department of Agriculture survey for 2009 to 2010, the latest years
for which data is available.

To add more calcium to your diet, consider eating more cantaloupe
(417 mg of potassium per cup), bananas ( 362 mg of potassium for
one small banana), raisins ( 271 per 1/4 cup ), yogurt (398 mg per 6
ounces), spinach (309 potassium  per ½ cup, 618 per cup), an orange
(237 mg), black beans (644 mg per cup) or a baked potato with skin
(909 mg of potassium for one medium potato).

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