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01-12-2012 | Research | Uitgave 1/2012 Open Access

Journal of Foot and Ankle Research 1/2012

Unknotting night-time muscle cramp: a survey of patient experience, help-seeking behaviour and perceived treatment effectiveness

Journal of Foot and Ankle Research > Uitgave 1/2012
Fiona Blyton, Vivienne Chuter, Joshua Burns
Belangrijke opmerkingen

Competing interests

Fiona Blyton and Vivienne Chuter declare that they have no competing interests. Joshua Burns has receives research support from the NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Fellowship #1007569 and Centre of Research Excellence #1031893), NIH (National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and Office of Rare Diseases, #U54NS065712), Australian Podiatry Education and Research Foundation, Charcot Marie Tooth Association, Muscular Dystrophy Association, CMT Association of Australia.

Authors' contributions

FB and JB designed the study methods. FB designed and validated the surveys, screened potential participants for inclusion, collected data, performed statistical analyses and drafted the final manuscript. VC provided comment on the final manuscript. JB provided comment on the surveys, draft and final manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Night-time calf cramping affects approximately 1 in 3 adults. The aim of this study was to explore the experience of night-time calf cramp; if and where people seek treatment advice; and perceived treatment effectiveness.


80 adults who experienced night-time calf cramp at least once per week were recruited from the Hunter region, NSW, Australia through newspaper, radio and television advertisements. All participants completed a pilot-tested survey about muscle cramp. Quantitative data were analysed with independent-sample t-tests, Chi square tests and Fisher's tests. Qualitative data were transcribed and sorted into categories to identify themes.


Median recalled age of first night-time calf cramp was 50 years. Most participants recalled being awoken from sleep by cramping, and experiencing cramping of either calf muscle, calf-muscle soreness in the days following cramp and cramping during day-time. Despite current therapies, mean usual pain intensity was 66 mm on a 100 mm visual analogue scale. Participants described their cramps as being 'unbearable', 'unmanageable' and 'cruel'. One participant stated that 'sometimes I just wish I could cut my legs open' and another reported 'getting about 2 h sleep a night due to cramps'. Most participants had sought advice about their night-time calf cramps from a health professional. Participants identified 49 different interventions used to prevent night-time calf cramp. Of all treatment ratings, 68% described the intervention used to prevent cramp as being 'useless' or of 'a little help'. Of 14 participants who provided additional information regarding their use of quinine, eight had a current prescription of quinine for muscle cramp at the time of the survey. None had been asked by their prescribing doctor to stop using quinine.


Night time calf cramps typically woke sufferers from sleep, affected either leg and caused ongoing pain. Most participants experienced little or no relief with current therapies used to prevent muscle cramp. Most people who were taking quinine for muscle cramp were unaware that the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration withdrew support of quinine for muscle cramp in 2004 due to the risk of thrombocytopaenia. Case-control studies are required to identify therapeutic targets so that clinical trials can evaluate safe interventions to prevent recurrent cramp.

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