Muscle cramps are severe, painful contractions or muscle tightening, which comes abruptly and lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes, most often in the legs.
Night cramps in the legs are usually sudden cramps, or tightening of the lower leg muscles, and sometimes the thighs or feet. They often occur immediately after person fall asleep or after waking up.
What causes muscle cramps?
Muscle cramps are caused by different conditions or activities, such as:
- Exercise, injury or overstressing the muscles.
- Pregnancy – cramps can occur due to reduced amounts of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, especially in the later months of pregnancy.
- Exposure to low temperatures, especially cold water.
- Other medical conditions, such as problems with blood flow (peripheral arterial disease), with kidneys, thyroid or multiple sclerosis.
- Long-term standing on a hard surface, sitting or holding legs in unforeseen positions during sleep.
- Lack of potassium, calcium and other minerals in the blood.
- Taking certain medicines, such as antipsychotics, contraceptive pills, diuretics, statins and steroids.
How to stop muscle cramps?
You may have to try out several different ways to stop muscle cramps before finding the one that suits you best.
Some of the methods you can try out are:
- Stretching and muscle massage.
- Warm shower or putting a heated pad on the muscle.
- Placing ice on the muscle (never place it directly on the skin, but use an older cloth or towel).
- Take a pain medicine such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen. Read and follow all directions on medications.
- Drink plenty of fluids or sports drinks.
If you have a cramp in your leg, you can try the following:
- Walking or shaking your feet.
- Stretching your muscles while sitting or standing.
- While seated, straighten the legs and stretch your foot toward your knees. You can also use a towel so that you put it over your feet and pull both ends slightly toward your knee.
- As you stand, about half a meter from the wall, lean forward and hold the knee of the affected leg In line with the heel, while the other knee bends.
If you think that muscle cramps are caused by the use of certain medications:
- Consult your doctor before taking the medicine again. The doctor may recommend another drug or adjust the dose of the old one.
- If you take any medication that is not prescribed by your doctor, stop taking it until you consult with a professional.
The following tips might help you to prevent leg cramps:
- Drink plenty of water and other fluids.
- Limit or avoid alcoholic drinks and caffeine, which encourage dehydration of the organism.
- Make sure that you eat healthy food (especially in pregnancy), especially foods rich in calcium, potassium and magnesium.
- Ride your bicycle or stationary bicycle.
- Stretch muscles every day, especially before and after exercise and before bedtime.
- Don’t suddenly increase the intensity of exercise.
- Drink multivitamin supplements.
What if the cramps in the legs are repeated regularly?
- Consult your doctor if you have recurrent cramps in your legs or they are particularly intense. These may be symptoms of other problems, such as restless legs syndrome.
- If the cramps are recurring, and they disturb you to your sleep, your doctor may prescribe a remedy for relaxing your muscles.