Nocturnal leg cramps (the leg cramps at night) are not only painful, but they also prevent you from having a good night’s sleep, which is important to your health. So, now you probably ask yourself this question – why is it always at night? Well, it’s because of lack of physical activity during the day. Lack of fluids and blood flow to the legs are some of the most common reasons for nocturnal leg cramps. The cramps and pain generally last for a few seconds. But the resulting muscle soreness can continue for up to a couple of days. Individuals who suffer from these cramps are usually above 50 years old, but that doesn’t mean that younger people are exempt. Leg cramps most commonly affect the calf muscle; however, some people have experienced them in their feet and thigh muscles as well.
Leg cramps at night and Restless leg syndrome
First, you should know that both nocturnal leg cramps and restless leg syndrome (RLS) occur during sleeping hours but that is the only similarity between the two conditions. You should also know that there are many differences between leg cramps at night and restless leg syndrome, such as:
- restless leg syndrome does not cause pain or cramping, while nocturnal leg cramps do.
- restless leg syndrome is more of a discomfort or crawling feeling in your legs.
- restless leg syndrome causes the desire to move the legs, while nocturnal leg cramps often prevent movement.
Moving the leg in restless leg syndrome offers relief – moving the leg in nocturnal leg cramps does not, instead stretching is required. This means that the syndrome forces you to move the limbs, but when you have cramps – the last thing you want to do is move.
What causes leg cramps at night – most common risk factors?
These are the most common causes of nocturnal leg cramps:
- Sitting for prolonged periods of time
- Overexertion of the muscles in the leg
- Standing or working on concrete floors
- Sitting improperly
Medical conditions may also cause nocturnal leg cramps, such as:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Neuromuscular disorders
- Structural disorders like flat feet
- Endocrine disorders like diabetes
- Diuretics, statins, beta agonists
Treatment and prevention for nocturnal leg cramps
Treatment for nocturnal leg cramps depending on the cause. For example, if the cause of your nocturnal leg cramps is due to dehydration, ensure you stay well hydrated throughout the day. Other treatment and preventative methods for nocturnal leg cramps include. The most effective preventative methods for nocturnal leg cramps are:
- Use horse chestnut, which has been shown to increase blood flow to the legs.
- Take a relaxing, warm bath prior to sleep to ease any muscle tightness.
- Apply a heating pad to the affected area.
- Try acupuncture treatment to loosen tight leg muscles.
- Ensure you are not deficient in magnesium or potassium – deficiencies in both minerals are linked to muscle cramping.
- Stretch your legs prior to bed.
- Partake in water exercises to build leg muscles.
- Wear ergonomic shoes and avoid high heels.
What should you do when cramps occur?
First, you need to know that when a nocturnal muscle cramp strikes it can nearly leave you paralyzed. Knowing how to properly handle an attack will offer you relief and leave you less sore afterwards. Here are some tips to better handle nocturnal leg cramps. Here are some tips to better handle nocturnal leg cramps:
- Get up slowly and walk around a bit – shaking your legs can also improve blood flow.
- Gently massage the area in a circular motion.
- Ensure blankets and sheets are not tight enough to make the leg muscle contract.
- Take a tablespoon of yellow mustard to relieve discomfort.
Try to relax the muscle that’s cramping. Stop performing any activity that may have induced the cramp and lightly stretch the muscle. Hold the stretch and massage the muscle.
2. Acupuncture or Massage
Acupuncture can help to relax the muscles and get to the core of the problem. If needles aren’t your thing, try getting a massage on a regular basis to keep muscles from getting too tight.
3. Epsom Salt Bath
Many coaches, therapists and personal trainers recommend this method for cramping. Take a warm bath with Epsom salts — It will provide magnesium to the outside of your body, and the warm water will help to sooth your muscles.
4. Drink More Water
Dehydration is a common cause of muscle cramping. Downing a bottle of water when you get a cramp probably won’t work as a quick fix, but making sure to drink enough water each and every day will help to hydrate your body on a regular basis and prevent cramping in the future.
5. Stay Active
Going for a walk can help to eliminate cramping due to the contracting and relaxing of the leg muscles. Keeping muscles from remaining still for too long and becoming stiff can help prevent cramps.
If you don’t regularly have leg cramps that are not related to a more serious condition, try adding more magnesium to your diet. Nuts and seeds are excellent natural sources of magnesium. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
What to Do During a Cramp?
The remedies listed above are preventative measures. So what is one to do while experiencing a cramp? Leg cramps during the night can be extremely painful and even feel paralyzing. Try to remember these few tips to help with the pain.
- Get up from the bed if you can and try to move the leg; walk around to stimulate blood flow.
- Massage the muscle in circular motions.
- Make sure your sheets, blankets, and bedtime clothing are loose and breathable.
- Sit on the floor and extend your legs out in front of you. Flex your feet at the ankles and point the toes. Then use your hands to pull your feet and slowly stretch the muscles