Letter Re: Got Cramps? Hyperventilate!


I read about this years ago, but it doesn’t seem to be common knowledge.

Cramps are caused by local oxygen deprivation in the affected muscles. Rapid, deep breathing gets rid of them quickly by restoring oxygen to the area.

Breathe as rapidly and as deeply as you can without becoming dizzy. If you catch the cramp just as it is beginning, you can usually stop it. If it’s already got a head start, it may take a minute.

At first nothing seems to be happening, then as the increased oxygen reaches the area, the cramp fades out and stops. – J.W.

HJL’s Response:

Low blood oxygen (hypoxia) is certainly one cause of cramps often experienced by those with asthma or other breathing conditions, but there are other causes too. For the most part, this is a quick method of fixing that particular type of cramp. You can do it yourself quickly without causing harm (except in rare cases – You already know if you are one of those rare cases). If it fixes the issue, you are good to go. If not, you haven’t lost anything and you can move on to the next level of treatment.


  1. It was taught to me during my classes as a massage therapist to treat a cramp in the muscle by stretching it. I’ve tried this on myself and works all the time. I.E.: a cramp in the calf muscle, stretch it by pointing your heel whether your lying in bed or standing up.

  2. Buy a bottle of Hyland’s “Leg Cramps” at your local health food store. Put a couple under your tong and let it dissolve and there are gone. I live at 6000 ft and once in a while have a leg cramp and they take care of it.
    Good Luck.

  3. I too get the occasional leg cramp, usually when I’m lying down in bed. The stretching exercise works very quickly (a second or three for me anyway).

    I’ve not tried the deep breathing and will try to test this the next time it happens.

    thanks for the suggestions.

  4. I agree with Karen and TWP. Stretching before exercise helps eliminate cramps, a cool down stretch afterwards helps remove the lactic acid build up which can cause cramps and is largely responsible for your muscle soreness the next day. Try it for about 10 minutes before and after.

  5. Sometimes a calcium or magnesium deficiency can also tend to create cramps. My Dad often uses the stretching method to relieve them, then takes a little magnesium citrate. But obviously, if it is a calcium deficiency, you need more of that. Certain greens provide a very available calcium source.

  6. I leaned as a child that this is why you get stomach cramps if you eat before swimming. The body needs lots of richly oxygenated blood flow to digest.

    So weirdly (or maybe not) it’s not the resting for a minute that causes the muscle to relax it’s the oxygen supplied during that minute or two. Good to know.

    Also applicable but in another area is headaches. More often than not it’s the water not the aspirin that relieves the simple headache. Almost all common headaches are caused in the nasal passages. Mucus membranes need fluids and they dry out quickly as a precursor to dehydration due to lack of fluids intake. So the body uses the water to restart the flow of natural secretion and movement of nasal fluids again. If you know this you can catch dehydration very early. Who knew snot could be so interesting? Smile.

  7. My wife uses Caleb Treeze Amish Farms “Stops Leg Cramps”. Found on Amazon and at stopslegcramps.com. It works for her. I’ve also used it, it does work.

  8. Dear Hugh

    I didn’t know that asthmatics had more cramps. I’m not one, have no breathing problems, and the doctor always tells me my blood is highly oxygenated. I mostly get leg cramps while lying down or sleeping; sometimes while exercising, walking or running.

    I think it is often due not just to overall low oxygen in the blood, but that for some reason the oxygen isn’t getting to a particular muscle group.

    I’ve tried stretching and rubbing, but the hyperventilating works much more effectively.

  9. From an emergency physician for more than 40 years: muscle cramps can be caused by many things. Lack of oxygen is one cause, but I think uncommon. The classic lack of oxygen “cramp” is an MI heart attack caused by lack of oxygen to the heart muscle. Put a blood pressure cuff on your arm for a couple minutes and you can feel the typical lack of oxygen muscle cramp. Any type of arterial blockage will cause this and if it really is ischemia (lack of oxygen) then these problems can be serious. It would take a whole article to go into all the differential diagnosis problems for these.Electrolyte imbalance, calcium, magnesium deficiency, or dehydration can cause them. Also muscle fatigue, injury and just a sudden stretch can bring these on. In these cases stretching will help. Even medications can cause muscle pain and cramping. One of the classic types are the statin type drugs like lipitor.
    Most muscle cramps are not serious, but if it occurs in the chest (especially with shortness of breath, sweating, or nausea it could be serious and should be checked out. Also if it regularly occurs in legs with activity and goes away in a minute or two of rest it could be due to arterial blockage and could be serious. Any painful cramping that does not respond within 30 minutes or so to the conservative therapies should be evaluated. In those cases that might be caused by ischemia or lack of circulation, this needs to be done sooner rather than later

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