What Causes Leg Cramps? How to Get Rid of Leg Cramps at Night
Leg cramps at night, formally known as nocturnal leg cramps are a common health issue that mostly affects the calf muscles but is not limited to that, as it can happen in the thighs or feet as well. Since this sudden and painful contraction of the leg muscle that is involuntary mostly happens during the night, the pain can awaken you from sleeping. Even when you are wide awake in bed doing nothing, leg cramps can occur. The duration typically lasts for a few seconds to roughly 9 to 10 minutes, usually leaving tenderness in the muscle that could, in turn, last for up to a day. Though they are generally considered harmless, there still might exist an underlying condition in some cases. Regardless, they are such a disconcerting experience.
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In this article, we list out a total of 6 ways to help you prevent and get rid of the painful experience. From ways as simple as drinking an adequate amount of liquids a day and stretching your legs and calf every time you go to bed, to methods that might need more arduous attention, such as maintaining a healthy diet filled with the needed nutrients and keeping up few preventive measures. But first, what causes leg cramps?
What Causes Leg Cramps?
Generally, leg cramps take place without any underlying causes at all. In most cases, it is unclear, though muscle fatigue along with neural dysfunction is thought to be a contributing factor. Other habits that are unknowingly detrimental also pose a growing concern as to what causes leg cramps. This includes sitting or standing for a long time and sleeping with the calf muscles shortened as the foot is stretched. Overexertion and causing too much stress and pressure in the lower extremities like excessive exercise and wearing improper footwear likewise play a role. Other factors include alcoholism, diabetes, chronic kidney failure, diarrhea, cancer treatment, cardiovascular problems, and mental issues such as Parkinson’s disease. An electrolysis imbalance is also associated with leg cramps, though it still needs a more extensive validation. Also, since muscle loss usually starts around 40, the more you age, the higher the risk for cramps, especially when you stop being physically active. Pregnant women are also vulnerable.
Some types of drugs can also cause leg cramps at night. Short-acting loop diuretics pull water from the body to the bladder only to be released as urine. This can be problematic since dehydration is a major cause of leg cramps or cramps in general. Also, it can rob the body of essential minerals that are needed to deal with the condition (more on that later). Thiazide diuretics that are used for hypertension and heart failure can reduce electrolytes in the body, causing cramping. Other hypertension drugs such as ACE-inhibitors and beta-blockers can cause the arteries to constrict. Even anti-psychotic drugs such as Risperdal and Thorazine which are used to treat mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia can induce the condition. The point is, always consult your doctor regarding various medications.
How to Get Rid of Leg Cramps at Night
Getting Rid of Leg Cramps at Night – Stretching Exercises
Usually, leg cramps at night can get better just by stretching and exercises, particularly when it doesn’t really have any serious underlying causes. Yes, it can be addressed without the need of taking medications. First off, make sure you perform simple stretching before you retire to your bed at night. Try to stretch your calves to ease the muscle tension. You can do so using a towel by placing it around your foot. Lying on your back, hold the ends of the towel to slowly lift your leg up, keeping your knee straight for at least half a minute.
Try walking on tiptoes too for several minutes. Do any of this for twice or thrice a day to get relief. Aside from this, do not forget to have your daily dose of exercise. Even as light as riding a stationary bike for several minutes before you sleep can help prevent the condition. Just make sure to keep it moderate so as not to overpressure your legs.
Getting Rid of Leg Cramps at Night – Essential Minerals
A depletion in essential minerals is generally seen as a contributing factor to what causes leg cramps at night. Potassium, for instance, is one of these vital minerals of which a deficiency could result in this condition. Make sure to get the recommended daily intake of potassium by taking supplements with meals or go natural by consuming foods rich in potassium such as bananas, apricots, dates, grapes, broccoli, cabbage, saltwater fish, lamb, and pork.
Magnesium also plays an important role. Magnesium supplementation is especially true among pregnant women who are more prone to leg cramps at night. Lastly, we have calcium. Calcium channel blockers like diltiazem are utilized in treating leg cramps. Before taking any supplements, better consult your doctor first for a proper prescription on the specific dosage you should take. Especially also that some medications like diuretics which are used for hypertension can drain these minerals.
Getting Rid of Leg Cramps at Night – Stay Hydrated
Dehydration plays a role in what causes leg cramps. If you have an inadequate water supply, your muscles will not properly work and this could lead to strain, which in turn could lead to cramps. So do your best at keeping hydrated especially when you’re always engaged with physical activities or is simply physically active most of the time. Replenishing with water and other liquids all through the day to prevent leg cramps at night should be on your list as it helps your muscles contract and be all the more relaxed.
Men and women should at least make it a goal to drink 3 liters (0.8 US gallon) and 2.2 liters (0.6 US gallon), respectively, of water per day. One way to determine whether or not you are drinking enough water is to look at the color or transparency of your urine. Basically, if it’s clear then you’re well hydrated. Otherwise, then drink more. Try to also curb down your alcohol consumption as it can rob the body of water. Tonic water containing quinine can help address leg cramps at night as well, though taking a large dose of quinine is now considered dangerous by the FDA. Better consult your doctor to discuss the risks and benefits of it all.
Getting Rid of Leg Cramps at Night – Home Remedies
You can do the following home remedies to help treat leg cramps at night: a) hot compress; apply a bottle with hot water or a heating pad to the affected area to loosen up the muscle and ease the cramps. On the other hand, b) you can use cold packs for the tender muscles. c) An ordinary soap; try putting a motel sized bar of soap under the affected of your leg, or instead apply some liquid soap directly to the area, as it can give a lasting relief albeit a lack of substantial scientific evidence. There’s no harm in trying. d) Try drinking cow’s milk. It will help you deal with an imbalance of calcium, an essential mineral needed for this condition (more on that later), though its high content of phosphorous may lead you to think otherwise. e) Taking 3 to 4 grams of primrose oil before bedtime may also help you by addressing blood vessels that are blocked. f) Speaking of improving blood circulation, try taking 1 tablespoon of brewer’s yeast a day. It will supply additional B vitamins too. Lastly, g) massage some VapoRub on the affected area to help relieve the cramp.
Getting Rid of Leg Cramps at Night – Medical Treatment
Quinine, as discussed above, that has been used over time for malaria has also been extensively employed as perhaps the only medication for treating and preventing leg cramps at night. It basically works by reducing the muscles’ excitability. With several reported serious side effects though when taken in large doses, such as miscarriages and birth defects among pregnant women, along with platelet deficiency, hypersensitivity, and other symptoms like headaches and nausea, it has lately been opposed by the US government that you won’t find quinine tablets now in the country. There really is no particular medication recommended for leg cramps. But taking multivitamins or painkillers can greatly help.
Getting Rid of Leg Cramps at Night – Some Preventive Measures
There are several preventive measures you can take not just to help counter leg cramps at night but also reduce the symptoms. For one thing, you can prop up your feet with a pillow when you lie down or dozing off. You can also hang your feet over the edge of your bed. Also, do not overexert yourself by wearing high heels for a long time as it put too much pressure on your calf and foot. If you can, simply wear proper footwear, including shoes that can provide support and comfort.
In addition, avoid standing or sitting for so long since doing so promotes a lack of blood circulation. Lastly, keep the bedsheets loose. Untuck them if you can. Tucking those covers too tightly will make your toes point downward or become twisted in an awkward position, causing leg cramps at night. Simply cover your feet lightly enough not to trigger the condition.