Nocturnal Leg Cramps
What You Should Know About Nocturnal Leg Cramps
No one enjoys being awoken from a peaceful slumber by a painful and sudden bout of nocturnal leg cramps. These cramps or Charley Horses as they are commonly referred to, can be recognized by excruciating pain and tightness in the calf, thigh, or even foot muscles that may last anywhere from a few seconds to upwards of a quarter of an hour. If you are suffering from nocturnal leg cramps, there are some steps you can take to manage the frequency and intensity of them.
What Causes These Cramps?
Although there is no definitive underlying medical cause of night-time leg cramps, doctors and experts agree that one of the main contributing factors is poor blood circulation. Poor blood circulation is commonly found in pregnant women and the elderly, which is why they are the predominant risk groups for leg cramps.
Dehydration is another common cause, as it is imperative to have enough water in the body to move and transport vitamins and minerals throughout the body. People that shy away from water in lieu of coffee and other caffeinated beverages are at a high risk, because although they are drinking fluid, it contains natural diuretics and therefore they are dehydrating themselves.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are also common culprits of nocturnal leg cramps. Calcium and potassium are especially important nutrients, and if your body is lacking them, one of the symptoms is Charley horses.
How Can I Stop Them?
There are many simple steps one can take to reduce or eliminate night-time leg cramps. If you are pregnant, elderly or otherwise have poor circulation, one of the best things you can do is a self-massage and stretching session prior to bedtime. Before crawling underneath your covers, massage your claves and thighs in deep, slow circular motions. This will help get the blood pumping in your legs and greatly reduces the risk of painful cramping throughout the night.
If poor circulation is not your problem, it is likely that you are not drinking enough replenishing fluids. Remember, not all fluids hydrate you. If you are a fan of caffeinated beverages like coffee, make a conscious effort to drink equal amounts of water as well. If you are an athlete this is doubly important because you are also sweating out much of your body’s water.
In addition to these causes, out of whack vitamins and minerals can also lead to nocturnal leg cramps. If you do not take a daily multi-vitamin, consider doing so. Many of these will contain the calcium, potassium, magnesium levels that are required for your body to fulfill its necessary functions. Keep in mind, although you may drink a good deal of milk, the calcium benefits from it are counteracted by the phosphorous levels, so a multi-vitamin is definitely recommended.
If you do not like taking pills, then improve your diet. Eating bananas has proven effective to the majority of people with night-time cramping. Other potassium-rich foods include cantaloupe, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, and various citrus fruits. In addition to this, try to minimize your intake of refined sugars.
What Do I Do to Help Ease the Pain During a Cramp?
Sometimes, no matter what you do, leg cramps still rear their ugly heads in the middle of the night. Should this happen to you, there are a few things you can do to help ease the pain. If you are a light sleeper, you may actually be able to stop the cramp from fully engaging. When you feel a cramp beginning, immediately bend your leg. All of your instincts will tell you to remain immobile, but this only elongates the pain and suffering. If you can bend your leg fast enough, you may be able to stop the cramp from ever happening. After stopping it, be sure to give yourself a leg massage to prevent it from happening again during the night.
If that technique does not work for you, then begin massaging the inflicted and contracting area immediately. Rub in a constant, circular motion and rhythm while taking deep cleansing breaths. If you share a bed with someone, or have someone nearby, have them get you a warm rag or compress to put on your leg if possible. The heat will help your circulation regulate, and the pan should begin to fade away.
If you have the strength to, get up and walk around. This often increases the pain of a Charley horse, but it lessens the length of the cramp. If necessary, you can take a warm shower or bath to help relieve any residual pain.
If none of this helps reduce the frequency or pain of your leg cramps, please speak to your physician. They may be able to run tests to find out what is causing your unwanted pain and get you back to having restful nights.