What are leg cramps?
By Michele Kralkay, DNM RHN
Leg cramps can be a real nightmare! Nocturnal leg cramps are involuntary contractions of the calf muscles that occur suddenly at night or during periods of rest. Contractions can also occur in the soles of the feet or other muscles. They can last from a few seconds to several minutes. Even though the intense pain may disappear, muscle soreness may remain for some time. Anyone can get these cramps, regardless of age. However, they are more common in middle-aged people or older. The root cause of nocturnal leg cramps is still unclear.
These are various factors that can contribute to this painful problem:
1. Dehydration: Water in muscle tissue helps them contract and relax.
2. Nutritional Deficiency: Any kind of imbalance of mineral electrolytes – potassium, magnesium, calcium, B vitamins and sodium in our body can lead to nocturnal and exercise-related cramps.
3. Overexertion or Prolonged Standing: Prolonged standing and standing while wearing poorly fitting shoes or high heels can lead to muscle fatigue or overexertion. Nocturnal leg cramps can be also caused by improper sitting or putting the legs in awkward and uncomfortable positions when sleeping.
4. Pregnancy: This starts in the second trimester and lasts through the third trimester.
5. Hypothyroidism: A low level of thyroid hormones can contribute to muscle weakness and calf cramps at night.
6. Uncontrolled Diabetes: It is a symptom of diabetic neuropathy, a form of nerve damage.
7. Alcohol Abuse: The excessive consumption of alcohol can damage your peripheral nerves and cause alcohol neuropathy which is usually characterized by leg pain and muscle cramps.
8. Certain Medications: Medications like cholesterol-lowering agents (statins) and diuretics can cause loss of water and electrolytes from the body, which increases your risk of experiencing cramps.
Tips to fix and prevent leg cramping at night:
• Drink a lot of water and other healthy fluids (sport drinks with electrolytes) in order to prevent dehydration.
• Avoid alcohol, coffee and soda beverages that can only increase the risk of cramping.
• If you experience a cramp, massage the muscle with your hands for 10-15 minutes.
• Always stretch your leg muscles before going to sleep. This will ease muscle tension and reduce the risk of having a cramp while sleeping. According to a 2012 study, stretching before going to bed can reduce the frequency and severity of nocturnal leg cramps in adults.
• You can also ride your stationary bicycle for 10 minutes before going to bed.
• Make sure to keep bed sheets and blankets loose around your feet so that your toes are not distorted.
• Adding more magnesium to your diet can be beneficial.
• Walking or jiggling the leg after a cramp sends a signal to the brain that our muscle needs to contract and relax. This can speed up the recovery.
• Try to include enough potassium in your diet: Dates, bananas, grapes, broccoli, fish, pork, lamb, oranges, grapefruit, cabbage, and apricots are excellent sources of potassium.
• Applying a hot compress to the cramped muscle can relax and loosen it up, which in turn will relieve the cramp.
Other included sources linked in Top 10 Home Remedies’ article:
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, www.aafp.org, www.journalofphysiotherapy.com, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, www.acefitness.org http://www.bpac.org.nz