Most of us have experienced a leg cramp in our lifetime. How fun was it? For me it was miserable. I worked desperately to get it to go away, like on the floor flopping around trying to reach the knot in my calve and then pushing on it and rubbing it until it finally gave in. Some people get cramps almost nightly. We call these nocturnaI leg cramps. I cannot imagine the physical and mental stress that could put on someone knowing that each night they might be jolted awake with a leg cramp.
What causes leg cramps?
Long story short, we do not know. There are several theories out there but none have been proven. Maybe you damaged your leg muscles previously and they spasm at night from that previous injury. Maybe your brain sends the muscle signals to flex while you sleep so they cramp instead. Maybe your muscles just hate you and exact their revenge in the middle of the night. Ultimately we do not know why they happen.
We do know certain people are at higher risk to develop night time leg cramps.
If you are over 50, stand a lot on hard surfaces, and do not drink enough water you might be at higher risk for leg cramps. If you have diabetes, thyroid disorders, drink too much alcohol, are deficient in magnesium/calcium/potassium, or you have flat feet you might be set up for night time leg cramps. But why they happen is still a mystery.
What can we do about leg cramps?
First things first. When a cramp hits: take a deep breath, say a cuss word under your breath, and then get after that cramp. Stretch it as soon as possible. At first that might be too painful so start with massaging the cramp. Find the ball of fire in the muscle and press your thumb into. Then make small circles with your thumb. Once you feel the muscle give a little try to stretch it. Grab your toes and pull them towards you or stand up. Simply standing up will start to stretch the calve muscles. Put some warmth on it. Go all out. This is war; you need to win and now.
How to prevent them?
Unfortunately we do not have a silver bullet for nocturnal leg cramps. So what does that mean? It means you get to try a bunch of things that are safe until you find the routine that works for you. Stretch your muscles during the day and before bedtime. Stay hydrated. Stay physically active during the day to strengthen the muscles. Wear comfortable support shoes. Stretch, stretch, and stretch. I have had some patients have success with Phuel and Theraworx (not an affiliate link, we make no money from you buying this). Research is sparse on it it actually helps but if it works for you great! Foam rollers might be your best friend. You could use a foam roller or stick and work the muscles before bedtime to see if that relaxes the muscles through the night
What to do when all else fails?
Your doctor might prescribe you a medication. Usually a muscle relaxer. But even those are not guaranteed to fix the problem. They are probably a last resort but an option.
Nocturnal leg cramps can be very painful and put a lot of stress on your sleep patterns. Medicine is still trying to discover how to treat these. For now the best recommendations are to stay physically active, hydrate often, and stretch often.
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