Have you ever been awakened from a sound sleep by an excruciating pain in your leg? A pain so intense you’d almost rather cut your leg off than continue to bear it? I can tell you from experience – such an instance is definitely a rude awakening! If you’ve ever suffered this kind of pain – you’re not alone. Studies show that about 70 percent of adults older than 50 experience nighttime leg cramps. So what causes nighttime leg cramps? Can you prevent them? Keep reading for answers to these questions – and more!
My mom always called it a “Charley Horse” (of which the origin is not known exactly, but if you look it up on Google, there are some speculated sources of the term).
Anyway . . . if you have ever suffered from a charley horse, you’re not alone. Studies show that about 70 percent of adults older than 50 experience nighttime leg cramps.So – what exactly are nighttime cramps?
Nighttime cramps are sudden, involuntary contractions of the calf muscles that occur during the night or while at rest. Occasionally, muscles in the soles of the feet also become cramped. The sensation can last a few seconds or up to 10 minutes, but the soreness may linger. The cramps can affect people of any sex or age, but they tend to occur more often among middle-aged and older people.
Nighttime leg cramps should not be confused with restless legs syndrome, a crawling sensation that is relieved by walking or moving around. Although uncomfortable, restless legs syndrome typically does not involve cramping or pain.What causes them?
Nighttime leg cramps are mysterious; there is no known exact cause, and there often doesn't seem to be any specific trigger. However, sometimes the cramps are caused by overexertion of the muscles, things like having flat feet or other structural body disorders, standing on concrete, prolonged sitting, awkward leg positions while sedentary, or dehydration. Less common causes include diabetes, Parkinson's disease, hypoglycemia, anemia, thyroid and endocrine disorders, and use of some medications.How can you avoid the pain of nighttime leg cramps?
To stave off future episodes of nighttime leg cramps, consider the following tips:
If you’ve got a cramp, what can you do to ease the pain?
- Stretch calves regularly as often as possible.
- Drink six to eight glasses of water every day to help prevent dehydration, which may play a role in the cramping.
- Ride a bicycle (regular or stationery) for a few minutes before bedtime to help prevent cramps from developing during the night, especially if you do not get a lot of exercise during the day.
- Keep blankets loose at the foot of the bed to prevent your toes and feet from pointing downward while you sleep.
- Swim or do pool aerobics regularly during the week to help stretch and condition your muscles.
- Wear appropriate shoes and socks.
So you’ve already got a cramp? Try to move around or shake the affected leg and then elevate it, or attempt to straighten the leg and flex your foot toward your knee. Grab your toes and pull them upward toward your knee. You should feel your calf muscles stretching. Also try taking a hot shower or warm bath, or apply an ice massage to the cramped muscle. In severe cases, medical attention may be necessary.
A lack of potassium may also be a cause, so consider taking a potassium supplement if you are having problems getting enough from natural food sources.
Mystery solved! By following the above advice, you can help to avoid future nighttime leg cramps and maybe even eliminate them altogether.