Enjoying a good night’s sleep only to be awakened by a painful cramp or spasm in your calf, thigh, or toe? It's the kind of pain that will raise you out of bed in search of some type of relief. You may be still drowsy and think you’re having a nightmare. Well, a leg cramp (a.k.a. Charlie Horse) can be a nightmare if it happens too often.
What can you do for relief?
As soon as you feel the cramp coming on, either flex your foot upwards toward your knee. If that doesn’t work, hop out of bed and put your full weight on the afflicted leg until the pain lessens.
If you are still experiencing pain apply heat from a warm washcloth, heating pad a warm shower or bath. Ice may help after the cramp or spasm is over to relieve soreness caused by the cramp. Take an anti-inflammatory drug if needed.
Why are you having leg cramps?
My mother used to tell me having leg cramps meant I wasn’t eating enough bananas. In other words, I was lacking in potassium. But, there are many other reasons for leg cramps.
• Standing for a long time (especially on concrete)
• Sitting for a long time
• Too much exercise
• Low in potassium, calcium, and magnesium
• Being dehydrated
• Medicines, such as blood pressure drugs, diuretics, oral contraceptives, antipsychotics, statins, and steroids
Can nighttime leg cramps be serious?
In some cases, more serious medical conditions can bring on muscle cramps:
• Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
• Spinal stenosis
• Addison's disease
• Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
• Chronic kidney failure
• Type 1 diabetes
• Type 2 diabetes
• Parkinson's disease
Muscle cramps can also be related to being pregnant or just the normal aging process. Check with your doctor about increasing exercise and stretching and eating food enriched with potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
How can you prevent leg cramps?
Use these tips to help prevent nighttime leg cramps:
• Increase water intake during the day.
• Cut down or avoid alcohol or caffeine, which can cause dehydration.
• Take supplements or eat healthy foods that are high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
• Stretch your leg muscles for a few minutes throughout the day and before you go to bed.
What if nighttime leg cramps continue?
Make an appointment with your doctor to rule any underlying issues that may be causing your nighttime leg cramps. It most cases, stretching, increased exercise, and healthy eating can improve the leg cramp nightmare.
WebMD – Sleep Disorders Health Center - Nighttime Leg Cramps - Topic Overview. Web. 16, January, 2012
Mayo Clinic – Health – Night Leg Cramps – Definition. Web. 16, January, 2012
Mayo Clinic – Health – Muscle Cramp – Causes. Web. 16, January, 2012
National Library of Medicine-National Institute of Health – MedlinePlus – Charley Horse. Web. 16, January, 2012
Reviewed January 16, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith