If you get nocturnal leg cramps, we don’t need to tell you how uncomfortable these leg pains can be. One minute you’re sleeping soundly and the next you’re jerked awake with aching pain in one or both of your legs. These cramps can keep you up for hours, completely disrupting your sleep and preparing you for a less-than-plesant day ahead.
Thankfully, there are ways to treat and prevent these painful leg cramps – and most treatments you can do yourself, right at home! But before you go about treating your leg cramps, it’s important to know what these cramps are and why they happen to you.
WHAT ARE NOCTURNAL LEG CRAMPS?
Nocturnal leg cramps, as their name would suggest, are pains in the legs that occur only (or most frequently) at nighttime. These pains are the tightening of the leg muscles. Usually the calf muscle is the muscle in question, but often the thighs and feet are affected as well.
Pain will usually last from several seconds to several minutes, and more severe cases will have close to an hour of pain. Often there is soreness after the muscle cramp.
Leg cramps affect men and women equally and most commonly happen to people over 50.
WHAT CAUSES LEG CRAMPS?
- Sitting for prolonged periods of time
- Over-exertion of the muscles for a long period of time
- Standing or working on concrete floors
- Sitting improperly (sitting with poor posture)
Leg cramps can also occur because of pre-existing medical conditions, such as:
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Neuromuscular disorders
Even structural disorders, like having flat feet, can be the culprit behind your nighttime leg cramps.
WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN I GET A LEG CRAMP?
When the pain of a leg cramp strikes, it can often leave you unable to move. Knowing how to take the right steps in that moment will help prevent lingering soreness after the cramp has gone.
- Sit on the floor and extend both legs out in front of you. Now flex your feet at the ankles and point your toes toward your knees – you may want to tug on your feet to offer an even better stretch.
- Get up slowly and walk around a bit. Shaking your legs can also improve blood flow.
- Gently massage the pained area in a circular motion.
- Ensure blankets and sheets are not tight enough to make the leg muscles contract.
- Take a tablespoon of yellow mustard to relieve discomfort.
Why mustard to stop the leg pain? Mustard contains an acetic acid (also found in vinegar), which prompts the body to produce more acetylcholine and ease away the leg cramp.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT LEG CRAMPS?
- Take a relaxing, warm bath before you go to sleep to ease any muscle tightness.
- Apply a heating pad to the usually affected area.
- Stretch your legs prior to bed.
- Partake in water exercises to build leg muscles.
- Wear ergonomic shoes for your day and avoid high heels.
- Consider consuming more horse chestnut, which has been shown to increase blood flow to the legs.
If all else fails, go to your doctor. You’ll want your practitioner to check that you have normal levels of magnesium and potassium. Deficiencies in either are a direct cause of leg cramps.
Your doctor may suggest you see an acupuncturist. Although this sounds a bit scary, it’s a great solution for your nightly pain; this type of therapy has been proven to relieve tension in muscles and prevent future leg cramps.
For daily treatment, make sure to get up and walk around a bit throughout your day, tend to your sore legs before bed each night, and wear shoes that make sense! If you keep all these precautions in mind, you can banish leg cramps yourself without any medical involvement.
However, if you’re unsure or nervous about your leg cramps, we always encourage you to talk to your doctor first and foremost.