Still Searching for a Miracle Cure

When a college basketball player came out of a game last week with a severe leg cramp, my first thought was “Poor kid. He should have tucked a sliver of Zest soap into his sock.” Though, truthfully, I’m beginning to have some doubts that the “Zest Cure” is the miracle I once believed it to be.

Several years ago, I wrote a column about the old wives’ tale that claims that keeping soap near the part of your body where you’re prone to get muscle cramps will help lessen or even prevent them.  Most old wives believe Zest is the
most effective brand. I’ve kept a bar tucked between the mattress pad and the
fitted sheet at the foot of my bed ever since.  And, no kidding, I really do have fewer debilitating foot cramps in the middle of the night. I exchange the bar for a new one every few months and—most of the time, at least—sleep like a baby.

But I still get foot cramps at other times. Driving a car. Walking in the woods.
Grocery shopping. The worst cramp ever hit me while riding a ski lift a couple
of years ago. There I was, with my legs dangling high above the ground in stiff
boots and heavy skis when my left foot seized up. I couldn’t pull my foot into
my lap and start massaging the arch. Or even writhe around in pain, unless I
was willing to risk throwing myself out of the lift. The only thing I could do
was holler, which didn’t go over all that well with the strangers I was riding

Somehow, I managed to limp off the lift and make my way to the ski patrol hut, where some kind first-aiders hurriedly pulled off my ski and boot and looked on in sympathy while I rubbed my foot and tried some modified Lamaze breathing until the cramp eased.

What’s a person prone to foot cramps to do? Even a thin sliver of Zest won’t fit
comfortably inside a ski boot. Or a regular shoe, for that matter. I posed the question to a group of folks at a luncheon not long ago and got some
interesting responses. Among them:

  • Eat lots of bananas. The potassium will help.
  • Drink Smart Water, which is a brand of vapor-distilled bottled water with added electrolytes.
  • Keep salt handy. When a cramp grabs you, quickly consume about a quarter of a teaspoon.
  • Put the Zest near your nose, not your feet. The cure is in the scent, not in the physical contact.

When I set out for West Virginia’s Winterplace Ski Resort last month, I was ready. The inside zippered pocket of my down jacket was filled with a dozen packets of salt I’d collected at fast food stops along the way and a travel-size bar of Zest. And I took along a six-pack of Smart Water, which I sipped on continuously. But no bananas. I can’t stand bananas.

It wasn’t until I lowered the ski lift safety bar across my lap and began the first frigid (14 degrees, to be exact) ride up the mountain that it dawned on me that, in order to get to the contents of my pocket, I’d have to remove my mittens. Which might lead to to dropping them onto the snowy ground below. Which might lead to frostbite. And the tall bottle of Smart Water I’d chugged at breakfast already had me plotting the shortest route down the mountain to the rest room.

The good news is that I had lots of fun skiing and didn’t get a foot cramp all day long.  The bad news is that it came in the middle of the night. Through a deep sleep-fog, I remembered that the salt and the Zest were still in the pocket of my coat, which was hanging in another bedroom. And my last bottle of Smart Water was in the car, frozen solid.


(February 10, 2013)



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