I have had a lot of experience with cramping, especially in the calf muscles. I am in my fifties, after being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in my late twenties, and I have done of lot of research and self-experimentation.
I strongly believe my condition is related to muscle fascia dysfunction, related to adhesions, dehydration, toxicity and viscosity of the intersticial fluids / fascial ground substance. So my conclusions may not be valid for normal healthy people.
I was very fit and competitive in my twenties (cycling) but a proneness to dehydration and cramping was a weakness — I always sweated a lot more than others. Hydration and electrolytes were essential, and worked. But in my late twenties, this ceased to work — I continued to get terrible attacks of calf-muscle cramp in bed at night, and was desperately trying to discover a solution; mainstream medicine had nothing to offer.
Then a pharmacist / alternative health practitioner (a very highly-regarded guy) strongly recommended a hair tissue mineral analysis. This showed extremely low copper and iron. Supplementing with strong copper and iron doses made me feel rapidly better, and for a couple more years I forgot about the earlier problems, they were resolved so well. But my fitness started to decline dramatically, or rather my pain levels became unbearable on exertion, and post-exertion stiffness got worse and worse. I also became very prone to tearing leg muscles; never while cycling, but often merely by stumbling when walking. Then I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.
I spent most of 20 years just “existing”, learning what I could, and trying things to see what might help. But interestingly, I didn’t suffer from cramp attacks anymore. But my condition had declined to the point where I was struggling to stand up out of a chair, or climb stairs. I was facing the need to exist on welfare.
But then I stumbled on a protocol and a hypothesis that worked — low carb diet, careful pacing of exercise (I always tended to push myself too hard for my debilitated condition), spas, careful stretching in the spa, massage from an excellent practitioner who understood fascia, and ongoing Hair Mineral analysis testing and supplementation accordingly. Copper and iron continued to be too low all the time, and so did magnesium.
I started to get nocturnal cramp attacks again, certainly because I was not eating carbs that aid hydration. Then I started applying magnesium (“oil”) externally and rubbing it in, and this both solved the cramping issues and brought magnesium levels up to normal in the hair tissue. Overall my condition has improved out of sight, so I am far better now than I was when I was first diagnosed with FM.
I hypothesize that most people with FM have a vicious circle of adhesions in the fascia, which cause blockages to intersticial fluid dynamics, which causes increased toxicity, which causes increased adhesiveness. Hard exertion creates energy waste by-products which are eliminated from tissues far slower than in normal people, if at all. Therefore avoiding hard exertion helped. Sugars also create toxicity issues in the body tissues, at least for those of us with unlucky genes of some kind.
Some people who have been diagnosed with FM have some completely different condition, like EDS, that needs to be diagnosed correctly; this leads to some practitioners who have had experience correctly diagnosing people with “FM”, as actually having something else, then saying that “everyone with FM actually has….(fill in the blank)” which is not true. The problem that is intractable in people with FM (and nothing else that explains the symptoms), is in the fascia and the intersticial fluids, about which mainstream medicine knows appallingly little.
No-one with joint hypermobility, for example, should be diagnosed as having FM. Real FM “immobilises”.