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Vinegar can save anyone during cramp attacks

31 October 2020


Hiking is fun and healthful, but it can be ruined by an unexpected cramp attack.

By Vir B. Lumicao

Going outdoors during the coming holiday break? Take heed. It may be good for you to bring along a small amount of vinegar, especially if you are prone to cramps or sensitive to insect bites or plant stings.
Vinegar is the most effective first-aid remedy to cramps, I can say from my own experience. I discovered it only a few years back when lingering pain from a leg cramp attack while hiking prompted me to search the Internet for the best remedy.
Vinegar also stops itching caused by allergens, insect bites and larval or leaf stings.
Cramps, a sudden tightening of the muscles when they are overworked or exposed to the cold, can lead to serious and even fatal accidents if the attack occurs while a person is biking, swimming, hiking or performing a hazardous outdoor activity.
Sporting experts say cramp is common among athletes who do not warm up before they start a strenuous activity. They say cramp is generally temporary and non-damaging, but it can cause significant pain and paralysis-like immobility of the affected muscle.
Cramp is common among athletes who don't warm up going into action.

My most painful cramp attack happened about three years ago while I was doing a loop hike up Mt Butler and Mt Parker then down to Tai Tam Reservoir and back to the starting point at North Point MTR station.
I began the hike at midday and aimed to finish the roughly 10 km loop by 5pm at a brisk pace. That would leave me time to buy some foodstuff at the North Point market. That didn’t happen.
My mistake was I overexerted myself. From the start at MTR station, I did a nonstop lung-busting climb about a kilometer long on steep concrete stairways and inclined sidewalks until I reached the beginning of the trail on Braemar Hill.
In less than three hours, I was on the Tai Tam Upper Dam. I had my quick lunch on a picnic site along the trail then made my way back up towards the Mt Parker Pavilion.
I was just about 80 meters away from the pavilion when my legs cramped. The pain was severe and I felt my strength drained by the attack, so I supported myself on a roadside rail and shook my ankles up and down, left and right, until the pain eased.
From there, I limped my way down Mt Parker Road and took the tram to North Point.
The post-cramp pain in my calves didn’t go away for two days, leading me to do some internet research on how to prevent cramps. Medical sites offered various forms of advice and advertisers recommended an array of food supplements or endorsed the services of some clinics that specialized on sporting pains.
Tai Tam Reservoir and the South China Sea as seen from Mt Butler.

Then I came across a conversation thread about cramps and its folk remedies. They offered a number of quick fixes such as fruit juice and pickle juice. Then I read an advice from a US Navy Seal. He said keep a bottle of vinegar always ready.
He explained that divers like the Seals are prone to cramps due to the hours they spend in cold waters. A gulp of vinegar would stop the cramp in two to five minutes, he said.
There’s nothing to lose taking his advice so, since then, I’ve made it a point to bring a small bottle of vinegar each time I go hiking. On four occasions that I suffered a cramp on the trails, I drank about a mouthful of the liquid and it kept me going again.
The last time I had cramps was three weekends ago, just as I and my hiking buddy Golda Pay-ong began descending the summit of Lantau Peak, at 950 meters the second-highest in Hong Kong.
First, I felt my thighs tighten and shake. I made a few belabored steps down the steep and narrow trail then stopped on a ridge wide enough for me to take out the vinegar from my backpack. I told Golda to carry on, but she waited.
My thighs were so taut I could not even bend them. I took two swigs and waited for about three minutes, then we resumed our descent.
About 100 meters down the slope, we came upon three Indonesian women sitting on one side of the trail. One of them was in pain as her friends massaged her legs. Cramps, they replied when I asked them what happened. I offered the afflicted woman my remedy.
“Here, take a mouthful. It’s vinegar. I also had cramps about 5 minutes ago,” I told her.
She did and soon she and her friends continued their trek, not far behind me and my buddy.
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