Cramps can be really painful and wake you up from your deepest sleep. The involuntary contractions which happen to your calf muscles, whenever you are resting, are known as nocturnal leg cramps. They can also be felt on the bottom of your feet, or other muscles.
Usually, these cramps last between a few seconds to several minutes and even though the pain disappears within this period of time, you can still feel your legs a bit sore afterwards.
It doesn’t matter if you are old or young, you can still be affected by leg cramps. They are however, more common in middle-aged people. People who exercise at night, or teenagers are also affected by leg cramps.
Scientist still haven’t discovered the real reason behind leg cramps, but they list a number of factors which can contribute to their painful problem.
In order to have a healthy body and mind it is important to be hydrated. Proper hydration also has an impact on the muscle performance since muscle tissue is comprised of 75% water which is essential in helping them contract and relax. If you are dehydrated your muscles will be deprived of their most important nutrients.
- Nutritional Deficiency
The imbalance of the mineral electrolytes such as potassium, calcium, sodium and magnesium is one the causes of night cramps or exercise cramps. Without these minerals the muscles cannot function properly. Lack of sodium can affect the normal body-fluid balance, nerve impulse generation and muscle contraction.
Your muscles need potassium. When combined with sodium and chloride, potassium generates electrical impulses in the nerves and muscles.
Adenosine triphosphate, which is the main energy source for muscle contractions, is stabilized with the help of magnesium.
- Overexertion or Prolonged Standing
If you stand too long and you wear bad shoes, uncomfortable shoes you are putting yourself at risk of muscle fatigue, or overexertion which eventually leads to nocturnal leg cramps.
A study, made in 2012, showed that prolonged standing at work can cause varicose veins, as well as nocturnal leg cramps. Becoming aware about extensive standing will help you do something about it and avoid problems with cramps.
Pregnant women usually experience nocturnal cramps which start in the second trimester and they last through the third trimester. These cramps can have a different intensity level and they can often be a result of fatigue, excessive pressure on the uterus, or reduced leg circulation, as a result of the pressure which the baby puts on the blood vessels.
Muscle weakness and nocturnal cramps can be caused by a low level of thyroid hormones. These hormones affect the absorption and utilization of calcium which, again, is related to muscle pain, weakness, numbness and cramps. A low level of these hormones can also have an effect on your metabolism which can lead to inflammation and cause pain and cramping.
- Uncontrolled Diabetes
Muscle cramping can also be caused by diabetes. People who suffer from diabetes may experience a really sharp pain, tingling and numbness in their leg muscles. Diabetes leads to dehydration and excessive urination which leads to nocturnal leg cramps. If you are a diabetic and you are experiencing these symptoms make sure you visit your doctor immediately!
- Alcohol Abuse
If you drink too much alcohol you are at risk of damaging your peripheral nerves which can lead to a condition known as alcohol neuropathy. Alcohol is a diuretic and it causes dehydration, as well as magnesium deficiency. Too much alcohol increases the level of lactic acid which then causes muscle pain and cramps.
There are also some medications which can cause nocturnal cramps. These medications include statins and diuretics which cause dehydration and cause muscle cramps. Antipsychotics, steroid and birth control pills might also be causing your muscle cramps. This is a sign that you should consult your doctor immediately and change your medications.
Check out these tips on how to prevent leg cramping:
- Prevent dehydration by drinking water
- Consume electrolytes
- Avoid alcohol
- Massage your cramping muscle for 15 minutes
- Before going to sleep stretch your muscles, or ride a stationary bicycle for 10 minutes
- Consume more magnesium by eating nuts and seeds. If you are pregnant make sure you take magnesium supplements and always consult your doctor
- After experiencing a cramp try to walk or jiggle the leg-this will help the muscle contract and relax
- Eat enough potassium (bananas, grapes, broccoli, pork, lamb, oranges, fish, dates, cabbage, grapefruit)
Apply a hot compress to your cramping muscle. This will help the muscle recover and relax.