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What's the cause of Leg Cramps during the night?

Causes of Nocturnal Leg Cramps?

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Leg cramps or “charley-horse”, are painful sensations of tension and stiffness in the leg muscles, most commonly felt in the thigh, calf and foot. When a person sleeps, nocturnal leg cramps can occur and can bring about nightmares instead of a good night’s sleep.

Nocturnal leg cramps are not associated with preexisting medical conditions even though they may happen at the same time with other sleep disorders. Pregnant women and the elderly are two groups that are more prone to these leg cramps because of the tendency to have poor blood circulation in their limbs. The condition can also happen to middle-aged and older age groups although anyone can be affected.

There are various possible reasons why nocturnal leg cramps happen. An individual may not be drinking enough water which is important for vitamin, mineral and other nutrient transport in the body. Drinking caffeine or alcohol does not substitute for hydration because they cause a person to excrete liquid than retain it. Since muscles require water to function properly, lack of water can lead to cramps. Athletes will definitely get cramps if they do not take in sufficient hydration especially after heavy exercise. Muscle twitches can also occur to a sedentary individual who does not take in the recommended water amounts.

Calcium, magnesium and potassium deficiencies can also cause nocturnal leg cramps. Many foods contain these essential minerals, but most of these are lost when food is refined or processed. For instance, almost 85% of magnesium is wasted in finely milled grains.

Muscle twitching and tremors at night that can potentially lead to nocturnal leg cramps are also attributed to calcium deficiency. Milk and other dairy products, though, contain phosphorous levels that make them ineffective calcium sources. Therefore, a good alternative would be non-phosphorous calcium supplements. Potassium is another important mineral that contributes to healthy muscle function and serves as an electrolyte in the body to help in body fluid balance. This mineral is also very easy to deplete and can also cause leg cramps.

There are several ways to prevent nocturnal leg cramps. First, make sure you are taking in sufficient amounts of calcium, magnesium and potassium. Tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, bananas and citrus fruits are good sources of potassium. You should also minimize your daily caffeine and sugar intake and hydrate properly by taking in at least eight glasses of water every day.

Lastly, you can relieve discomfort by massaging the painful area using circular motions to loosen the tight muscles. You can also perform stretching exercises by holding your toes and pulling them to your knee or extending your legs straight. This allows exhaustion of the stretch reflex prior to sleep. If the pain continues, have a warm bath or shower or use a warm compress for about 10 minutes.

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