People often identify nocturnal leg cramps as painful, sudden involuntary contractions of leg muscles at night. Often, this condition has no real cause and sufferers simply need to accept it as a painful nuisance. However, in some cases, this condition is caused by specific health disorders that require immediate treatment.
Causes of Nocturnal Leg Cramps
• According to some experts, this condition can be caused by unopposed foot flexion. When we sleep, our feet muscles are shortened, which make leg cramping more likely to happen, your calf muscle may get very tight and harden. Sometimes, it is also caused by voluntary contraction. People who take calcium channel blockers may also have nocturnal leg cramps.
• In a study, peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can make leg cramping more likely to happen. PAD occurs when you have plaque build up in your arteries, which can cause obstruction, Plaque is consisted of cholesterol, fat, fibrous tissue, calcium and other substances.
• People who take diuretics or water pill may eventually have potassium deficiency, a common cause of general muscle cramps.
• Those who suffer Addison’s disease have inefficient adrenal glands; they have higher chance of getting nocturnal night cramps.
• If you’re a diabetic, leg cramps can happen both in daytime and nighttime. Insulin can lower the potassium level in your body, a risk factor for general muscle cramps. In addition, diabetics also have lower sodium and magnesium level, which also increase the probability of leg cramps.
• Women who are in the second or third trimester usually have nocturnal leg cramps. The vein that returns the blood from lower extremities can be slightly constricted due to the enlarged uterus, which makes cramps more likely to happen on their legs. Leg cramps can also be caused by progesterone deficiency during pregnancy. This may cause low calcium level in your body, a risk factor for leg cramps.
Treatment of Nocturnal Leg Cramps
• For many years, many people believe that quinine sulfate is the most effective way to prevent and treat nocturnal leg cramps. Despite its anecdotal success, the FDA no longer approves quinine sulfate since 2006. However, qualaquin, a still-approved version of quinine sulfate can still be found in the market. Unfortunately, it’s quite expensive, which mean you should try other cheaper methods first.
• Avoid dehydration. Drink enough water, especially during the day. You should drink at least eight 8-oz glasses of water each day. Enough water intake can also flush toxin from your muscles, making cramps less likely to happen.
• Use horse chestnut. This herb is commonly used in Balkans to treat poor blood flow on the legs vein. Consult your doctor before taking horse chestnut if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. People with kidney and liver problems may be prohibited from taking this herb.
• Get in the bathtub. Have a relaxing hot bath, an hour before bedtime, as it will relax your leg muscles and can make you sleep easier. You can add some mineral salts to improve the effectiveness of this method.
• Apply a heating pad on the affected area. This method will help to relax your muscles and if you don’t have a heating pad you can fill two bottles with warm water and put your leg between them.
• Take valerian tea. This herb is native to parts of Europe and Asia and often used as a natural sedative. Sip a cup of valerian tea before bedtime to make the muscles throughout your body more relaxed. Valerian can make you drowsy, so you shouldn’t take it during the day. Talk to the doctor before using valerian, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. People who take prescription medicine or have epilepsy should use valerian carefully.
• Consider having an acupressure treatment. The therapist will stimulate certain meridian points on your body, to ease leg cramps.
• Take mineral supplements. You should make sure that you have adequate potassium, sodium and magnesium level. The deficiency for these minerals can make muscles cramps throughout our body more likely to happen. Include citrus fruit, cantaloupe, broccoli, potatoes and banana in your daily diet, they contain enough potassium to prevent deficiency.
• Calcium lactate is a popular mineral supplement to ease leg pain discomforts. If you experience leg cramps at night, you can add 200 to 300 mg of calcium-lactate with a cup of milk. Calcium-gluconate is also a good practical solution to treat leg cramps. You should take enough vitamin C and D, as they help the mineral absorption such as calcium. It would be helpful to walk under the morning sunlight for 15 to 30 minutes every day.
• A research in Taiwan showed that about 85 percent of nocturnal leg cramps sufferer can get a complete recovery simply by taking a combination of riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 supplements. The best source is still from foods, however if you have certain dietary restriction you can choose supplements instead. For example, liver is an excellent source of vitamin B12 and plants can’t synthesize this vitamin. If you’re a vegetarian, you should find other ways to get this vitamin.
• Stretch your legs before bedtime. Stand three feet from the wall, tilt forward and hold the wall with your hands. Make sure you keep your heels steady and flat. Hold this posture for about five minutes.
• Participate in water exercises, such as swimming to develop supple leg muscles.
• Avoid high heels and wear ergonomic walking shoes.
• If you’re pregnant and diagnosed to have progesterone deficiency, you may need to take supplement to treat your leg cramps. If nocturnal leg cramps severely affect your sleep and decrease your productivity at daytime, you should ask the doctor whether progesterone supplement is necessary.
What Should You Do When Nocturnal Leg Cramps Occur?
• When you feel the cramp, extend both legs and pull your feet in toward your knees. You may also grasp onto your toes tightly and pull them toward your knees.
• Get up slowly and walk around a bit. You may also shake your legs vigorously to improve the blood flow on your lower extremities. You may also use warm bottle to help relieve the cramps.
• Gently massage the affected are using circular motions, to loosen tight muscles.
• Make sure that your blankets and sheets are not too tight to the point that can cause your leg muscles to contract.
• Taking a tablespoon of yellow mustard can quickly relieve discomfort caused by leg cramps.