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Reasons Why You May Experience Leg Cramps
What causes leg cramps and painful muscle spasms especially at night? These types of muscle cramps are generally experienced in the feet and legs, particularly in the calf, commonly known as a “Charley horse”. If you have ever suffered a Charley horse or leg cramp while you were sleeping, you know it can wake you up from a sound sleep instantly.
Whatever you want to call it, when it interrupts your sleep it can mean a painful end to a restful night. They can be excruciatingly painful, whereas restless legs syndrome isn’t painful, but just as annoying.
Muscle spasms are where some of your muscle fibers involuntarily contract. When these contractions become severe it develops into what we all know as a cramp.
These cramps may be experienced for a few painful seconds, an hour or excruciatingly even longer, and muscle cramps can be experienced by anyone.
I have had them so severe they have felt as though they were going to snap my shin bone. On a few occasions I was almost taken to hospital with the fear it was about to! So I do understand how painful they are.
What Causes Leg Cramps?
So what causes leg cramps and muscle spasms to be so fast and painful? Here are a few of the reasons why you could be experiencing leg muscle cramps:
1. Too Much or Not Enough Exercise
Leg muscle cramps may be experienced if you overuse your muscles and do too much exercise. This is often a two-fold problem as you may be dehydrated too. The same thing can also be experienced if you do not do enough exercise and end up sitting or standing for a long period of time.
- Also if you sleep with your legs in an awkward position you may find you suffer with leg cramps at night.
Muscles that are regularly exercised will be less likely to cramp. You don’t have to be an athlete, you just have to keep them in a healthy condition. A lack of exercise just makes you more vulnerable to muscle cramps because your muscles are not in ‘good condition’.
Stretch your legs, especially your calves before you go to sleep. Since this is where Charley horses usually occur at night, targeting your lower legs and stretching them out previous to your bedtime can help limit leg cramp occurrences.
2. Mineral Deficiency
People with low levels of potassium, magnesium and calcium may also experience muscle cramps during the day or night. A lack of potassium often leads to muscle weakness which is quite a different condition from muscle cramps. On the other hand, calcium is responsible for the normal contraction of our muscle tissues. To absorb calcium our magnesium levels need to be right.
- So any deficiency in potassium, magnesium and calcium can increase your vulnerability to muscle cramps.
So on the dietary side of the Charley horse equation, if your sleeplessness is caused by frequent leg cramps, crank up the amounts of magnesium, calcium, potassium and vitamin D3 in your diet.
You can do this by supplementing, or simply by adding salmon, bananas, sardines, oranges, dark leafy greens, almonds and seeds to your diet.
3. Too Much Sodium In Your Diet
Sometimes this is merely a case of too much sodium in your diet. Eating too much salt can lead to cramps, usually appearing in your legs, during the day or night. Simple dietary changes can instantly reduce and sometimes totally stop the occurrences.
Dehydration is what causes leg cramps and muscle spasms in most people. We all have to drink water to keep our body healthy. It doesn’t matter if you indulge in sports or other activities that result in excessive perspiration or if you don’t sweat at all…you need to keep your fluids up!
- If you do perspire excessively and become dehydrated it may increase the likelihood of you suffering from leg muscle cramps.
Staying hydrated is probably the simplest way to positively affect every single one of your physiological functions. It also promotes restful sleep, and helps flesh out excess levels of sodium which may be causing your cramps. Men want to drink between 112 and 144 ounces of water daily, 80 to 96 ounces a day for women.
Some pregnant women may find in their last trimester that cramps become a common occurrence. This may be due to the increased weight and strain on the leg muscles.
- Advise your doctor as your minerals may be low or you may not be drinking enough either.
5. Peripheral Neuropathy
This is a neurological condition that may cause leg cramps. Peripheral neuropathy is a condition where the nerves located in the legs are being affected.
What To Do When Muscle Cramps Hit
Immediately warm the muscle. You can wrap a hot-soaked towel around the leg cramp. If you can start walking around and slowly stretch your muscle. Grabbing your toe while you stretch your calf from 15 up to 30 seconds is also another effective way (if you can) to release the tension of the cramp. Repeat the stretching up to 4 times or more until you feel complete relief.
How To Prevent Muscle Cramps
- Before you exercise, experts highly recommend that you perform stretching before and after any exercise or sports, coupled with warming up and cooling down exercises.
- It is also equally important to hydrate well before, during and right after any activity. Drinking plenty of water is crucial especially if the physical activity is going to last for an hour or more.
- Speak to your health care professional about important minerals, vitamins and electrolytes you may be missing.
- Lastly a healthy diet is important. Begin by adding bananas to your shopping list as they are an excellent source of potassium.
Another way to prevent muscle spasms and leg cramps during the night is to investigate any medicine you may be currently taking. Diuretics and statins frequently prescribed to treat hypertension and high cholesterol have been known to increase your frequency of sleep-wrecking Charley horses.
The Harvard Medical School reports that if you have flat feet, you might just be more susceptible to night-time leg cramps too. Wear shoes that offer excellent arch support, or order inner-soles that improve the quality of your current footwear and you just might improve your sleep quality.
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