Leg cramping is extremely painful and can be a real nightmare, especially when it wakes you at night.
Nocturnal leg cramps are sudden, involuntary contractions of the calf muscles during the night or periods of rest.
Apart from the calves, contractions can also occur in the soles of the feet or other muscles in the body. At the location of the cramp, you may feel a hard lump of muscle tissue.
The duration of these cramps can be anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. Although the intense pain may go away, muscle soreness may remain for some time.
Anyone can get these types of cramps, but they are more common in people who are middle-aged or older. They may also occur quite frequently in teenagers and in people who exercise at night.
The precise cause of leg cramps at night is unclear. However, there are many contributing factors that can cause this painful problem.
Here are some of the reasons why you have leg cramping at night.
Proper hydration contributes to a healthier body and mind. It also impacts the performance of your muscles.
Water comprises 75 percent of muscle tissue and helps them contract and relax easily. So, not maintaining proper levels of hydration during the day may be one of the big causes of leg cramps at night.
Water is also important for proper circulation of nutrients in the body. Without water, muscles will be deprived of important nutrients, which can lead to imbalances of electrolytes (mainly sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium).
In fact, even small amounts of dehydration may hinder athletic performance and increase the chance of cramps at night.
2. Nutritional Deficiency
Any kind of imbalance of mineral electrolytes – potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium in our body can lead to nocturnal and exercise-related cramps.
These minerals maintain the proper work of your muscles and are responsible for both nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Sodium is essential for maintaining a normal body-fluid balance, muscle contraction and nerve impulse generation.
Potassium works along with sodium and chloride to generate electrical impulses in the muscles and nerves. Calcium plays an important role in the generation of nerve impulses and muscle contractions.
Magnesium helps in stabilizing ATP – adenosine triphosphate, the energy source for muscle contractions. Moreover, it serves as an electrolyte in body fluids.
If you are deficient in any of these minerals, you are more likely to experience cramps and other muscle-related issues. In addition, certain B vitamin can impact muscle function, especially vitamin B12.
3. Overexertion or Prolonged Standing
Prolonged standing and standing while wearing poorly fitting shoes or high heels can lead to muscle fatigue or overexertion, which in turn causes leg cramps at night.
According to a 2012 study, prolonged standing at work can increase your risk of varicose veins and nocturnal leg cramps. In order to prevent these problems, you should implement interventions to interrupt or reduce prolonged standing at work.
Nocturnal leg cramps can be also caused by improper sitting or putting the legs in awkward and uncomfortable positions when sleeping.
Cramps are pretty common during pregnancy, especially from the second trimester onward. They can range from mild to pretty painful and occur as a result of the increased pressure of the uterus on some nerves and reduced blood circulation in the legs.
Low levels of thyroid hormones in the body are definitely a cause for concern and may lead to a number of health problems including nocturnal leg cramps. Hypothyroidism reduces the levels of calcium in the body, resulting in muscle pain, weakness and numbness as well. Low thyroid hormone levels can also cause fatigue and low metabolism, which can result in inflammation and muscle cramps.
Diabetes patients often experience nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) in the legs which results in sharp pain and numbness. The high blood sugar levels can dehydrate your body and lead to muscle cramps – if you experience this symptom and you’re a diabetic, you should consult with your doctor immediately.
7. Alcohol abuse
Excessive alcohol consumption may damage your peripheral nerves and cause a condition known as alcohol neuropathy which can cause nocturnal leg cramps. Alcohol is a powerful diuretic that can dehydrate your body and result in the condition.
8. Certain Medications
Certain medicines, particularly the cholesterol-lowering agents or statins and diuretic can actually add to the loss of water and electrolytes from the human body. As a result, it will make you more prone to having cramps at night.
Tips to fix and prevent leg cramping at night:
– Drink a lot of water and other healthy fluids in order to prevent dehydration.
– The consumption of sport drinks with electrolytes can also prevent the problem
– Avoid alcohol, coffee and soda beverages that can only increase the risk of cramping
– If you experience a cramp, massage the muscle with your hands for 10-15 minutes
– Always stretch your leg muscles before going to sleep. This will ease muscle tension and reduce the risk of having a cramp while sleeping. According to a 2012 study, stretching before going to bed can reduce the frequency and severity of nocturnal leg cramps in adults
– You can also ride your stationary bicycle for 10 minutes before going to bed
– Make sure to keep bed sheets and blankets loose around your feet so that your toes are not distorted
– Adding more magnesium to your diet can be beneficial as well. Nuts and seeds have a rich content of magnesium. However, pregnant women are not recommended to take magnesium supplements and should consult a doctor
– Walking or jiggling the leg after a cramp sends a signal to the brain that our muscle needs to contract and relax. This can speed up the recovery
– Try to include enough potassium in your diet. Dates, bananas, grapes, broccoli, fish, pork, lamb, oranges, grapefruit, cabbage, and apricots are excellent sources of potassium
Applying a hot compress to the cramped muscle can relax and loosen it up, which in turn will relieve the cramp.