Night leg cramps are very painful and sudden contraction of muscles. They usually occur in the calf muscle and may last from a few seconds to a few minutes. The following article provides information about the various causes and treatment options available for this condition.
A leg cramp is a sudden and uncontrolled contraction of a muscle in the leg. It happens when a muscle contracts too hard. The muscles that contract in this manner are those that cross two joints, such as the calf muscles (the muscles that cross the ankle and knee), the hamstring muscles (the muscles that cross the hip and knee), and the quadriceps (the muscles that also cross the knee and hip).
Leg cramps usually occur at night, and in most cases last for a few minutes or a few seconds. They may cause tenderness of muscles, which may last for up to 24 hours. They are more common among older people. But, they may affect younger adults and children. About 1 in 3 people over the age of 60, have regular cramps. Moreover, they may occur everyday in some people.
The cramps are harmless and are mostly linked to muscle fatigue and nerve disorders. However, their occurrence increases with age. The exact cause of a leg cramp is unknown; however, there is a theory which states that a cramp occurs when a muscle that is already in a shortened position is stimulated to contract further.
Apart from this, the other known causes are:
- Muscle fatigue
- Lead poisoning
- Excess intake of alcohol
- Decrease in the potassium levels
- Neuromuscular disorders
Most of the cramps can be relieved by massaging the affected muscles. They ease off on their own and no painkillers are required. They can be treated by the following options:
- Take a hot water bath to relax the affected muscle.
- Walk on the affected leg, this will help exercise the calf muscles and prevent cramps.
- Massage the affected leg, as it will provide instant relief.
- Stretch and flex the leg up towards the head.
- Apply a cold pack on the affected area.
- Drink plenty of fluids during the day, as dehydration is linked to leg cramps. Intake of fluids before, during, and after exercising is also important.
- Stretching can help relax the muscle fibers. Also, it is important not to exercise vigorously before bedtime.
- Increase the intensity of exercise gradually. Increase it by only 10% compared to the previous week, as sudden changes can cause cramps in the leg.
- Improve the posture while resting in bed. Use a pillow to elevate the leg while sleeping on your back. While sleeping on your chest, hang your feet over the end of the bed.
When to see a doctor
If the leg cramps are persistent and painful, it is advisable to see a doctor. Also, in case muscle atrophy and weakness develops, consult a doctor immediately. The doctor may analyze blood samples to ensure that the levels of potassium and other electrolytes are normal. Medications to relax the muscles may also be prescribed in some cases.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.