Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night because of fierce leg cramps? Were they hard to get rid of and were you in agony until they stopped and your muscles relaxed?
If you answered ‘yes’ three times, read on for some tried and true home remedies for painful leg cramps any time they strike.
Leg cramps usually start in the calves, but they may spread down to the feet or up to the thighs, too. They can be as short as a few seconds or minutes or much longer.
University of Florida Health neurologist Michael Jaffee said the average duration is nine minutes. If you’ve ever experienced nocturnal leg cramps, the pain seems to go on forever. In fact, soreness lingers for hours afterward.
Men and women are equally likely to suffer from muscle spasms while sleeping. They are more likely to afflict people over age 50, but some people (including Yours Truly) have had them their entire lives.
For once, scientists are stymied about what causes nocturnal leg cramps.
Among the possible culprits are “prolonged periods of sitting, improper sitting position, standing or working on concrete floors, and over-exertion of the muscles in the leg,” according to Jaffee, who gave a laundry list of medical conditions that are linked to leg cramps:
- Magnesium deficiency
- Neuromuscular disorders
- Parkinson’s disease
- Structural and endocrine disorders
- Use of statins, diuretics, and beta agonists
Dr. Brandon Peters adds diabetes, liver disease, and kidney failure requiring dialysis to the conditions listed above. Low electrolyte levels (calcium, magnesium, and potassium, to name three) have been associated with leg cramps.
The good news is that there are effective treatments that don’t cost an arm and a leg:
- Get a blood test to check for potassium and magnesium blood levels. The results may show you need to take mineral supplements, which are easy to purchase at the local vitamin shop or online.
- Stretch before retiring. Reaching for the ceiling and bending down to touch the floor will prepare all your muscles for relaxing sleep. Do whatever yoga or other stretching positions feel comfortable. Remember, the idea here is to unwind before lying down to a peaceful, serene slumber.
- Soak in a warm bath before bedtime. Increase the soothe by adding a handful or two of Epsom salts and lavender oil or your favorite scent. Close the door and lock it if needs must. Personal time is so important and so often overlooked by busy, stressed-out people.
- Get some magnesium oil and massage it into your legs before you go to bed. Protect your sheets with washable towels or wear pajama bottoms if that’s a concern.
- Purchase a heating pad or make your own and drape it over one or both legs. (Many people report that one leg cramps up more than the other.)
- Eat more bananas. A single banana has 105 calories and provides a respectable 12 percent (422mg) of the daily requirement for potassium. Not only that, it has 8 percent (32mg) of the total magnesium you need every day.
- Use horse chestnut (buckeyes) to boost blood flow to the legs. Clinical trials on the extract from the seeds show that horse chestnut is an effective and safe short-term treatment for “chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a circulation problem in which the veins do not efficiently return blood from the legs to the heart.”
- Be like the international film star, model, dancer, and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn and trade in your high heels for ballet flats or another low-heel style. Ergonomic footware is absolutely the best solution for tired, tight legs.
- Get a pool pass and exercise in the water to build up your leg muscles. Even better, join a water aerobics class. For a lower price than a gym membership, check out the local YMCA/YWCA or community recreation center.
- Try acupuncture. As we’ve mentioned before, acupuncture balances body energy (chi) and clears neural blockages. The licensed medical doctor will consult with you about your symptoms and recommend a course of almost painless needling treatments that provide enormous relief to all sorts of physical and emotional problems.
If you wake up with cruel leg cramps, slowly get out of bed and “walk out the cramps,” as my swimming coach used to say. This can actually work as blood flow improves. Consume one tablespoon of yellow mustard – the familiar picnic condiment – because it, too, is high in magnesium (48mg or 12 percent of the daily need).
Then, perform this relaxing exercise:
Sit down and extend your legs in front of you.
Flex your feet toward the floor, then curl your toes back toward the knees.
Continue foot flexes and stretches for 3 to 5 minutes, then return to bed.
To prevent leg cramps later, flex and stretch your feet throughout the day to keep them limber. Moving your feet and ankles while you are awake can help reduce pain and soreness when you are slumbering.