Night leg cramps or nocturnal leg cramps are involuntary contractions or spasms of muscles in the legs that usually happen when lying in bed. It usually affects the calf muscles, but the muscles in the feet or thighs can also be affected. Strongly stretching the contracted muscles lessens the pain.
Causes of leg cramps
- Performing exercises, injuries or overuse of the muscles
- Leg cramps can happen during pregnancy due to decreased amounts of minerals such as magnesium and calcium especially in the later months of pregnancy.
- Exposing the body to cold temperature, especially cold water.
- Medical conditions such as kidney disease, thyroid disease, peripheral arterial disease and multiple sclerosis.
- Prolonged standing on hard surfaces, sitting for long hours and putting legs in an awkward position while sleeping.
- Deficiency in potassium and calcium and other minerals in the blood.
- Taking birth control pills, diuretics, steroids and statins
- Muscle fatigue and issues with the nerves
- Parkinson’s disease
- Stretch and massage the affected muscles.
- Take a warm bath or shower to relax the muscles. Another alternative is placing a heating pad on the area to loosen tight muscles and lessen the leg cramps. Avoid sleeping with a heating pad on the affected area to prevent burns.
- Apply an ice pack on the affected area to lessen the pain. Avoid applying the pack directly on the skin to prevent frostbite. Wrap the ice pack in a towel before placing on the affected area.
- Take the prescribed over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen to lessen the pain.
- Drink plenty of fluids especially sports drinks to help with leg cramps.
- Massage the affected area using VapoRub to relieve cramping of the legs.
- Increase the consumption of foods rich in potassium such as bananas, dates, apricots, raisins or grapes, cabbage, broccoli, oranges and grapefruit. Salt water fish, lamb and pork are also good sources of potassium.
- If pregnant, take the prescribed magnesium supplement which is needed for normal functioning of the body.
- Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and cramping during the night. Women should drink at least 2.2 liters of water while males should drink 3 liters every day.
- Minimize alcoholic drinks to prevent the worsening of the leg cramps.
- Avoid sleeping in beds with tight bedsheet or covers that causes the person to unconsciously point his/her toes downward while sleeping and this can cause cramping of the legs. Make the bedsheets or covering loose to prevent the chance of toe-pointing that can lead to cramping.
- Stretch the calf muscles before going to sleep to lessen the tension in the muscles.
- Leg cramps at night is usually caused by deficiency in magnesium. Take magnesium supplement at least 200 mg every day.
- If the leg cramps happen 2-4 times every night, seek medical help immediately since it can be an indication of a health condition.
- Perform stretching every day especially before and after exercises and at bedtime.
- Take multivitamin supplements every day.