Leg cramps are a nuisance at the best of times, but when they strike at night they are double the trouble: causing you to lose sleep while your leg spasms and you writhe in pain until the early hours of the morning. If you suffer from nocturnal leg cramps, you are not alone: according to the NHS, 3 in 4 cases of cramp occur during sleep and usually strike in our calf muscles. But, what are leg cramps, what causes them and how can we get rid of them?
What are leg cramps and how are they caused?
Leg cramps are relatively common and will likely affect each and every one of us at some point in our lives. Lasting anywhere between a few minutes and 24 hours, the sharp pain associated with cramps is caused by the involuntary tightening of the muscles when they contract.
Although it is not yet understood exactly why leg cramps occur, experts have offered numerous possibilities ranging from the simple and most typical (such as dehydration and over exertion) to the more complex and rare (such as a kidney or thyroid disease).
What can I do to cure the cramps in my legs?
Unfortunately for us leg cramp sufferers, there is no sure-fire way to cure nocturnal leg cramps. We have, however, compiled a list of 5 things you could do to help prevent leg cramps:
- Change your diet.
Leg cramps are linked to low levels of potassium, magnesium, sodium and calcium in the body. So, to boost your body’s vitamin and nutrient content, try introducing some foods for leg cramps such as dark leafy greens, nuts, bananas, quinoa and lentils into your regular diet.
- Stay hydrated
Drinking water and other liquids (even pickle juice!) throughout the day helps to keep our muscles contracting and relaxing correctly, thus reducing the risk of cramping. Staying hydrated is particularly important when engaging in physical activity as the fluids lost while exercising will need to be replenished.
- Massage and stretch the muscle
- Apply heat to the affected muscle
Whether it’s your calf, thigh or foot, applying a hot water bottle to the affected area or immersing yourself in a warm bath can be useful way to soothe the muscle.
- Take a painkiller
Although other, more natural methods of preventative treatment should be considered first, if you are experiencing intense pain, taking a painkiller such as Paracetamol may ease your discomfort.