If you suffer from nocturnal leg cramps then you are all too aware of how painful they can be. Not only is being jolted from your sleep with an aching “Charley Horse”
a rude awakening, the excruciating contractions of your calf or foot muscles may have you bolting out of bed to find some relief. Though leg cramps are a common complaint, the medical community doesn't fully understand them. But because they often occur predominantly at night, the International Classification of Sleep Disorders has categorized “sleep-related leg cramps” as an official sleep disorder.
Approximately 70% of adults over 50 experience frequent nighttime leg cramps. Obviously, if you only get them a few times a year there is nothing to be concerned about (other than being awakened from your sleep with cramping pain, that is.) But if they happen almost every night, there could be an underlying medical condition.What causes leg cramps?
Leg cramps occur when a muscle group involuntarily, suddenly, and intensively contracts. The most common area for cramps is in the calf muscle and muscles in the feet.
Some people experience leg cramps every single night . . . sometimes multiple times. Since there's no way you're going to sleep through a leg cramp, the disruption can lead to chronic sleep deprivation
While there are numerous theories about what causes leg cramps, there's little evidence that points to the direct cause. Many believe leg cramps happen when you’re in a state of dehydration, and some hold to the idea they're caused by an electrolyte imbalance. However, magnesium and potassium deficiencies have not been proven to be a culprit.
While most people can tell the difference between a leg cramp and leg pain, it's worth noting that the two conditions do have different origins. Neuropathy, sciatica, and vascular disease usually cause pain during the day - not just at night. Cramps that occur while sleeping or at rest may be due to a different cause than nighttime cramping.
The most recent research suggests that cramps are caused from the hyperactivity of the nerve muscle reflex arc. In this instance, the central nervous system is fatigued to the point that some of the normal inhibitory activity that prevents cramping is lost. Prolonged sitting, poor posture, and poor flexibility may result in malfunctioning reflexes. Overweight people seem to have more cramps and wearing tight footwear can also result in cramping.What you can do.
If they recur on a frequent basis you should see your doctor. Discuss the use of any prescription drugs such as diuretics, which can lead to an electrolyte imbalance. You may need to have your blood tested to see if you have a calcium or vitamin E deficiency
. In the meantime, when a painful leg cramp has you jumping out of bed you can try these remedies.
Make sure your bed covers aren’t too tight around your legs. This can cause you to point your toes, which may cause cramping. Also, you can stretch your calf muscles for several minutes each night before you get into bed. When you experience a cramp, try pulling your toes back or put your foot on the floor and lean forward.
Again, if you can't get any relief from recurring leg cramps, make sure you see your doctor to rule out an underlying medical condition.