Many people worldwide experience leg cramps which usually occur while sleeping which is why they are referred to as nocturnal leg cramps. This condition is so painful that can even wake you up in the middle of the night. The pain usually occurs in the calf but it can also occur in the thighs and feet, and it can last from several seconds to several minutes. After the pain, you can experience muscle soreness throughout the whole night. Leg cramps usually affects men and women over the age of 50.
Leg cramps at night, different from restless leg syndrome
Nocturnal leg cramps as well as restless leg syndrome (RLS) occur while sleeping which is the only similarity between these conditions. However, they are quite different and here are the most common differences: RLS does not cause pain or cramping, while nocturnal leg cramps do.
- Moving the leg in RLS offers relief – moving the leg in nocturnal leg cramps does not, instead stretching is required.
- Causes and risk factors of leg cramps at night
- RLS is more of a discomfort or crawling feeling in your legs.
- RLS causes the desire to move the legs, while nocturnal leg cramps often prevent movement.
Even though the exact reason for nocturnal leg cramps is not yet discovered, here are some potential risk factors:
- Standing or working on concrete floors
- Parkinson’s disease
- Neuromuscular disorders
- Sitting improperly
- Medical conditions, too, can contribute to nocturnal leg cramps, such as:
- Sitting for prolonged periods of time
- Over-exertion of the muscles in the leg
- Structural disorders like flat feet
- Endocrine disorders like diabetes
- Diuretics, statins, beta agonists
Treatment and prevention for nocturnal leg cramps
Depending on the cause of nocturnal cramps, you can find the proper treatment. For instance, if dehydration is the main cause, then you should drink a lot of liquids in order to prevent nocturnal leg cramps. Here are some other treatment methods for this issue:
- Stretch your legs prior to bed.
- Partake in water exercises to build leg muscles.
- Wear ergonomic shoes and avoid high heels.
- Take magnesium and potassium supplements since the deficiency in these two minerals causes muscle cramping.
- 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.
What to do when cramps occur
In order to relieve the severe pain from a muscle cramp, you should know the proper technique, so here are some tips which will help you handle nocturnal leg cramps:
Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. After that, flex your feet at the ankles and point your toes toward your knees. In order to get a better stretch, you can tug on your feet.
Next, slowly get up and walk around for a while. Remember to shake your legs which will help you improve blood flow.
Gently massage the area in a circular motion.
Make sure blankets and sheets are not tight enough to make the leg muscle contract.
In order to relieve discomfort, take a tablespoon of yellow mustard.