This section is from the book "Smith's Family Physician", by William Henry Smith. See also: Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know.
Cramp affects all the muscles, exterior and interior, voluntary and involuntary. Sometimes it is a mere symptom of disturbance of the system, or attendant on other affections, as Dyspepsia, Cholera, Cholic, Spinal irritation, Tetanus, Hysteria, etc. Sometimes, however, it is the result of over-exertion of some particular muscles, or cold applied to some particular muscles; sometimes the consequence of keeping certain muscles too long in one position.
Any of the muscles may be the seat of cramp, but it attacks most frequently the calf of the leg, the sole of the foot, the muscles of the fingers, and those of the neck. It is generally sudden in Us attacks, causing the muscular fibres to gather up in a hard knot, readily perceived by the touch, and sometimes visible. The contraction is attended with pain, sometimes very severe; and instances have occurred where its extreme violence has produced fainting. The attack varies in duration, sometimes lasting a few minutes, sometimes for hours. Occasionally it will subside after a few minutes, and return half an hour or an hour afterwards. Sometimes it will attack one leg, after a short time leave that, and recommence in the other leg, or an arm, or the side. Some people are apt to be attacked, particularly at night, and to be awoke out of sleep by the spasm. This complaint frequently attacks swimmers, and many lives are lost in consequence. This may arise from sudden exposure to cold, but more probably from undue or Unaccustomed exertion of particular muscles. A gentleman who undertook to cradle a small field of oats, a kind of exercise he was not accustomed to, on returning to the house in the evening, was attacked with violent cramps of the muscles of the legs. After using friction for some time the cramp subsided, but it was very painful while it lasted.
Whatever favours the occurrence of Neuralgia, may, in like manner, predispose to cramp. It is liable to occur in pregnant women.
When the attack has commenced, all that can he done is to stretch the joint as much as possible, at the same time using friction with the hand, or with a piece of hot flannel. Plunging the affected limb into a hot bath, if it were possible to get the use of one at so short a notice, would afford considerable relief. Rubbing the cramped muscles with some stimulating liniment, such as Hartshorn and Oil, Oil and Turpentine, Essence of Mustard, or Opodeldoc, would be of service. In order to prevent future attacks, attention must be paid to the general state of the health. Warm bathing will be beneficial, and the patient should be warmly clad. Persons liable to attacks at night have frequently prevented a return, by the application of a tight bandage round the affected limb, before going to bed.