Most of us have at one time or another had a nocturnal leg cramp. Some individuals suffer frequently from them. Almost anyone can experience cramps, but they are more common in the elderly. Although they are technically harmless, they can be quite debilitating sometimes lasting 15 minutes or more. Most cramps have no obvious underlying cause.
It is believed that cramps may be associated with dehydration, prolonged sitting or a deficiency of certain electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium or calcium. Some medications have also been implicated, including diuretics, oral contraceptives, and beta blockers. Cramps have also been related to conditions such as pregnancy, diabetes and thyroid disorders.
There is weak evidence that B complex vitamins and magnesium supplements may help to prevent cramps. Most food and natural supplements have not been found to be helpful.
What to do for a leg cramp? First try massaging the cramped muscle. Next, try flexing your feet by bringing your toes up toward your knees. Try applying either hot or cold compresses directly to the painful muscle. Lastly, if you’re not in too much pain try to get up and walk around.
Here are some suggestions for reducing the frequency of cramps:
- Maintain adequate hydration by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. This is especially important if you’ve been working out and/or sweating.
- Massage and stretch your calf muscles before retiring. For stretching, try standing two or three feet from a wall with one foot forward. Lean forward with forearms up against the wall, keeping rear knee straight with the rear heel flat on the floor. Hold for 20-30 seconds then switch legs and repeat.
- Loosen or un-tuck bedcovers and sheets at foot of bed in order to give your feet plenty of room.
- Avoid high heels as well as completely flat shoes. Wear shoes with good support.
In the past, quinine was traditionally used as a treatment for leg cramps, but due to its dangerous side effects, it is no longer recommended. In fact quinine products are no longer sold over the counter.
If you have tried all the above suggestions and still suffer from nocturnal leg cramps, see your doctor.