Charley Horse has paid a visit to most of us sometime or the other. This name is quite misleading since it refers to a condition (and not a person!), otherwise known as leg cramps. These are characterized by sudden spasms that usually occur in the calf muscles and are extremely painful. A sharp pain jolting you awake at night is Charley Horse hard at work, but sometimes it can happen during the day too while performing activities like cycling or running. They can last from a few seconds to 10 minutes – the pain just keeps on increasing!
What causes these leg cramps?
There are several causes of cramps such as:
Dehydration, which sends the muscles into contraction mode.
A stressful workout routine – sometimes if you increase the intensity of your exercises, it causes painful spasms.
The leg muscles go into spasms if the leg is resting in an awkward position for sometime.
A trauma caused to a particular muscle or a group of muscles.
Certain medications like diuretics, steroids, and even birth control has been known to lead to cramps
Lack of potassium and calcium in the body.
Nighttime cramps are not RLS
Nocturnal leg cramps are often confused with restless leg syndrome or RLS that has similar symptoms such as acute pain in the legs. RLS is basically a disorder that develops an instinct within you to start moving your legs. This instinct or “urge to move” causes pain and unpleasant sensations in the legs, whereas nighttime leg cramps manifests in the form of pain without any urge to move the legs.
How to combat cramps
Take a look at some ways to prevent this issue:
If you have chronic leg cramps, it is best to keep cool compression handy that can reduce the soreness by numbing the pain.
Figure out an exercise that helps to strengthen the muscles since stronger ones deter cramps from setting in.
Buy an analgesic balm or a patch, which are available over-the-counter at pharmacies.
You have to be properly hydrated most of the time since it has a host of other benefits apart from preventing nocturnal leg cramps as well. Before you go out for a run or start working out, drink fluids and eat a balanced meal – chances of cramps at night are reduced.
Another effective method for treating nighttime cramps is to make sure you don’t use tight bed covers. It leads to the pointing of toes that are subsequently followed by cramps. To be on the safe side, stretch the calf muscles for about 5 minutes before going to bed.
Wearing shoes with proper support can prevent leg cramps late at night.
Sufficient vitamin and mineral intake
Some vitamins and minerals such as potassium and magnesium affect muscle function. If you increase the consumption of magnesium in the body, the frequency of leg cramps will be greatly decreased. This is advised by doctors for pregnant women as well. A dose of 300 milligrams each day will help in keeping the cramps at bay. Nuts, lentils, and quinoa have an abundance of magnesium, so make sure those are included in your diet.
Quite a few athletes have stated that eating a potassium rich banana after a grueling race has helped to combat any leg cramps that they may have had. Potassium deficiency in the system definitely contributes to nocturnal cramps, which is the reason why you should consume foods that contain a lot of potassium such as – potatoes, corn, saltwater fishes, tomato & tomato juice, broccoli, all kinds of cabbage, bananas, apricots, nectarines, dates, grapes, or raisins, beans, oranges, grapefruit, pork, and lamb.
What happens when you have cramps?
The common method used to literally shake off cramps at night is to jiggle or shake your leg for a few seconds till the muscles return to their original positions. You can also try walking around, pumping ankles up and down, or massaging the muscles since the movement helps in restoring muscles to normal equilibrium.
Stretching and flexing will help to a certain extent. Lie down on your back, lift your legs and extend upwards (towards the ceiling), and then flex them toward the calf slowly. Repeat this motion till the cramps stop. Pull your toes back instead of pointing them and if the cramps aren’t gone by that time, place the foot on the floor and lean forward. People who consume diuretics, or who have come down with diarrhea and vomiting usually experience cramps since their calcium and phosphorus levels are out of control – in such cases it is best to call the doctor without delay. As mentioned before, steroids tend to cause cramps too, so if you feel a particular medicine is increasing the frequency of these cramps, it is advisable to switch to a different medication after consulting your doctor.
Hope these tips are useful in both prevention and relief when it comes to leg cramps!
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