Nocturnal Leg Cramps – also known as leg cramps at night – are pretty common and harmless. According to a study done in 2017, almost 30% of adults suffer the pain of leg cramps at least five times a month. Only around 6% of these were severe.
Some believe leg cramps at night are a classic sign of dehydration, others think only pregnant women go through these cramps. Such beliefs are only somewhat true.
Nocturnal leg cramps can happen for many reasons and they can happen to everyone – adult men, women, the elderly, and even children.
What are these reasons? And when should you worry about leg cramps like these? Can they be stopped with home remedies?
In this blog, we have covered all below topics:
What Causes Leg Cramps?
A leg cramp is sudden, involuntary pain in your calf, foot, or thigh. It is when your leg muscle seems to tighten into a knot causing mild to uncontrollable, unbearable pain.
Now, these muscle cramps may happen at any time, but they cause the most discomfort at night. That’s because the sudden, intense pain may leave your legs sore in the middle of the night, thus making it difficult to sleep.
Even if they happen only for a second or two, their occurrence breaks your sleep cycle and causes disturbed sleep. This hampered sleep further harms the following day, during which you may be in pain while being sleepy, unproductive, and tired.
There are ways you can stop the cramp quickly and relieve the pain (more on that in the next sections), but the real question that needs to be answered is — why do you get leg cramps at night?
After all, it’s better to treat the root cause than to treat the symptom.
Here Are 6 Possible Reasons Behind Leg Cramps At Night
Some drugs like Gabapentin, Diuretics, Clonazepam, Statins, Amoxicillin, and Zolpidem can cause leg cramps at night as a side effect.
With the loss of fluids comes the loss of essential minerals like calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium from the body. This can be in the form of sweat, urine, or diarrhea.
With little to no electrolytes like these to nourish your body, the legs may not be getting the nutrition they need. Thus, resulting in painful cramps. Alcoholics, coffee addicts, and athletes are more prone to leg cramps from dehydration than others.
There are not many studies on this, but some research suggests that pregnancy may be a factor in leg cramps at night. The primary reason here is a deficiency of some nutrients, which the leg muscles don’t get because the baby’s nutritional demand is a priority.
If you are an athlete or gym fanatic, muscle fatigue is the most likely cause of you getting leg cramps. Excessive exercise without adequate rest periods leads to an overworked muscle.
Improper Sitting or Standing Position
Sitting cross-legged, with one leg over the other, or standing for long periods causes muscle fatigue and restriction in blood supply. This could mean leg cramps at night are a reaction to not getting enough vital nutrients and oxygen.
Getting leg cramps too often at night can be because the body is busy taking care of some other problem. This includes diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, lack of a crucial mineral like potassium, cold sweats, Parkinson’s, Osteoarthritis, flat feet, ALS, Kidney failure, or cancer.
Whether it’s a small episode or big, here are some leg cramps remedies for you to find relief.
Use this little abbreviation – SWAMP – to remember these tips (in no particular order).
Stretch and Stand Up
Stretch your leg to ensure it is unfolded and flex it. Try touching your toes with your hand and pulling them a bit. It will help if you can stand up.
If this doesn’t ease the cramp, try the Reclining Hand-to-Big Toe Yoga pose. It’s one of the best exercises to do in bed whether you get a cramp or not.
For this, lie on your back, and place a yoga strap or a belt around your foot. Now straighten that leg and lift it. Keep the other leg flat on the floor. Pull the strap towards your chest to help your foot flex and deepen the stretch.
Walk on Your Heels
Mostly leg cramps at night are in the calf area. When you walk on your heels, you stimulate the muscles on the opposite side of the calf, thus helping it relax. Also, try to wiggle your feet when you walk.
Apply Warm or Cold Treatment
Apply a hot towel or heating pad to the area that hurts. Warmth helps relax the tightened muscles. You could also apply an ice pack as it helps numb the pain.
Massage Your Legs
When you have leg cramps at night the easiest step is to rub the affected area and soothe the tight muscles. If the leg cramp is small, this step should be enough on its own.
Painkillers (when the above don’t work)
Take ibuprofen or naproxen. These are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – your last-minute resort. Though painkillers should be avoided, they can help to relieve the pain so you can get back to a good night’s sleep.
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Can We Prevent Leg Cramps At Night?
Yes, we can. Just take care of the following things, and you will reduce the number of times leg cramps ruin your night.
- Drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water daily.
- Make stretching a part of your morning and evening routine.
- Do not sit or sleep in the same position for long.
- Make sure your footwear is comfortable and doesn’t hurt your feet.
- Consult a doctor to take supplements or food high in potassium or magnesium for leg cramps. These nutrients help maintain the electrolyte imbalance, which hugely impacts your muscle function.
Are Leg Cramps Serious?
Leg cramps at night are not a troublesome condition. They may be a sign of something underlying health conditions. Or because of pregnancy, dehydration, medications, improper posture, and muscle fatigue.
Whatever the cause, Stretching, Walking, Applying warm or cold treatment, Massaging, or Painkillers (SWAMP) can help you out. And don’t forget to always stay hydrated by eating water-rich foods and drinking enough water.
Note that leg cramps at night can be problematic if they happen frequently and do not stop despite you following the SWAMP steps we talked about. That’s when you should worry about them.
In this case, it is best to get yourself checked by a professional doctor.
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