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Normally, we control our own skeletal muscles. For those of you who have woken up with severe pain in your legs in the middle of the night, you know that this is not always the case. There is no known cause of nocturnal leg cramps, but there are things you can do to help stop the cramps and to try to prevent them.
A muscle cramp, also known as a spasm, is an involuntarily contracted muscle that doesn’t relax on it’s own. Muscle cramps can last anywhere from seconds to half an hour and may involve part of the muscle, the whole muscle, or muscle groups that act together. Muscle cramps are extremely common and nearly everyone experiences them at some point in their life. As we age it’s more common to experience muscle cramps, particularly in the legs, and often at night.
Common Causes of Leg Cramps
The most common cause of leg cramps is dehydration. Dehydration happens when you lose fluids due to physical activity or warm weather, and are not replacing those fluids quickly enough. When you sweat, you also lose sodium. When you lose enough sodium and water from your body, you can get cramps.
Deficiency in minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, and sodium, may cause leg cramps. These minerals are essential for normal muscle contraction, and are normally absorbed through nutrition. However, if you are getting less than the recommended five or more servings a day of fruits and vegetables, you may have inadequate intake of these minerals.
To learn about other causes of leg cramps click here.
How to Stop a Leg Cramp
To stop a leg cramp, pull your toe toward your head to stretch your calf. If that doesn’t work, you may need to get up and walk around. This is not always the most fun when the cramp has woken you up from a dead sleep, but walking is one of the most effective ways to get the cramp to release. You can also try walking on your heels to stretch your calves. A warm compress or a warm bath can also help stop the cramps. A bath with epsom salts is particularly helpful as the salts contain magnesium.
To prevent muscle spasms, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Eight, 8-oz glasses is the recommended dose but if you’re drinking coffee, tea, or alcohol, you’ll need more.
If you’ve made sure that you’re plenty hydrated, it’s possible that the cause of your cramps is mineral loss. Most people are deficient in magnesium. A high quality supplement is often helpful to reduce cramps. To conquer both dehydration and to replenish electrolytes, I often recommend that my patients drink unsweetened coconut water before bed.
If you are experiencing muscle spasms frequently give us a call at 510-922-1579, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment so that we can get to the root cause of your problem.
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