Nighttime leg cramps, sometimes called charley horses, are a sudden tightening or contraction of the leg muscles, usually in the calf. Nighttime leg cramps can sometimes happen in the thigh or foot; they are painful where ever they happen. They can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and can wake you from a deep sleep.
When awakened from a leg cramp, stand up, put your hands on the wall in front of you and stand on your leg with your foot flat on the floor, while leaning forward toward the wall. This will stretch the muscle and relieve the pain. Use the wall to help you keep your balance. The leg cramp usually goes away almost immediately.
Another technique that may work is to straighten your leg, massage your calf and walk around to stretch your calf. Do not point your toes when you stretch your legs to relieve a leg cramp. The flexing of the foot by pointing the toes will make the cramp tighten up even more.
Some will get relief by taking a hot shower or a warm bath, while others get relief by rubbing the calf with an ice pack or straightening the leg and flexing the foot so that the ankle and toes point up, not out. But when in pain, I can’t even straighten my cramping leg so the wall stretch is my favorite solution.
Leg cramps can be caused by a mineral imbalance, by strenuous exercise, excess salt loss from sweating, or sitting or standing too long. One way to eliminate leg cramps is to adjust your vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements. Some doctors suggest supplementing your diet with magnesium, calcium and potassium. Calcium is needed to contract the muscle and magnesium is needed to relax it. If not properly balanced, the muscle may be confused and a cramp is its way of telling you. Herbalists may recommend you add black cohosh, bilberry and ginkgo to your diet.
A banana-strawberry and 2% milk smoothie just before bed instead of that bowl of ice cream may be the added boost of Vitamin A, B, D, and E, calcium, magnesium and potassium you need to get a good-nights sleep.
Dehydration may also be a cause of leg cramps and drinking a full glass of water before bed may provide some relief. You may also be experience a depletion of salt and other trace minerals. Electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade before bedtime may help restore depleted minerals and relieve nighttime leg cramps.
Ibuprofen and other NSAID’s appear to interfere with your body’s water regulation and this could lead to muscle cramps. Try not taking ibuprofen before bedtime if you are experiencing nighttime leg cramps and see if you notice a difference.
Your doctor may prescribe quinine if you are having leg cramps every night, but for a limited time. This frequently prescribed treatment for leg cramps can build to toxic levels in the blood and damage your eyesight, cause nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and deafness.