Cramps – a Reader’s Perspective

Adam’s Journal

You probably get tired of our Laurel and (Dr.) Hardy routine every month. So to break it up, we thought we’d share an interesting (and slightly edited) response we received from a reader last month following our column on muscle cramps:


It has been my experience that when suffering activity-induced cramps, the fastest and most effective way to eliminate them is with ice. I owe this revelation to my wife, who introduced me to this treatment when I was suffering from cramps following a workout in 100-degree heat. Ice bags on all the cramping muscles gave 100 percent relief. Since then, whenever I, my sons or our teammates in various sporting events have experienced cramps, application of ice has always worked to eliminate the problem.

I would love for the word to spread about the benefits of ice therapy for what surely must be heat-induced cramping during strenuous activity.


Ken Elliott


Dr. Prescott Prescribes

Our—decidedly brief—review of the literature didn’t turn up any research studies that would seem to back up Ken’s observations. In fact, when scientists from the Stanford University School of Medicine published a study in 2010 that analyzed more than 500 papers on the topic of cramping, the accompanying press release pretty much said it all: “Review finds painfully few surefire treatments for muscle cramps.”

But when we dug a bit deeper, we did find an interesting anecdotal report that lends some credence to Ken’s experiences.

In the 1990s, Stanford biologists began experimenting with a rapid-cooling device, hypothesizing that it could speed muscle recovery. Their subsequent published work showed that rapid cooling helped prevent muscle exhaustion during exercise.

By the early 2000s, numerous athletic teams—including the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and the Manchester United soccer team—had begun using it.

Not surprisingly, Stanford football was one of the teams that employed the device. And when a player in 2002 began suffering leg cramps during an early-season game, the head trainer decided that, in addition to the usual IV and muscle massage, he’d also treat the cramps with a rapid-cooling device. To his surprise, the cramp disappeared, and the player was able to finish the game.

“When the IV fluids worked, it wasn’t the minerals or the rehydrating,” the head trainer later told Stanford Magazine. “It was because we were invasively cooling the players down. We had noticed that if the IVs were kept on ice, they worked better.”

Such accounts are not the sort of peer-reviewed, large-scale studies that constitute scientific proof. But given the absence of effective treatments for cramps, a theoretical explanation for why ice treatments might work (the cooling effect could stop nerves from misfiring), and the lack of risk, I’d say that Ken could be onto something!