If you’ve had leg cramps or Charley horses, then you already know how uncomfortable they can be. These muscle spasms often happen at night and affect the calf muscle. The tight, knotted sensation felt in the calf can last between few seconds to several minutes. Sometimes, the pain may be severe and make the muscle sore for days after. Everyone is prone to leg cramps, but people who are aged 50 or older might experience them more often.
Leg cramps can happen during the day while a person is involved physical activities, but they are more likely to jolt you awake in the middle of the night. For instance, fitness, cycling, and running can put some strain on the leg muscles. Sometimes, they can be as a result of an inactive lifestyle. Contracting muscles may not relax for several seconds or more, making the pain severe. When Charley horses become severe, they can lead to hours or a whole day of soreness in the muscle from a few hours to a day. However, this isn’t abnormal, as long as the pain isn’t recurring.
Other Facts about Leg Cramps or Charley Horses
- According to some reports, leg cramps occur in about 7% of children and 60% of adults.
- The pain can be severe and cause sleep disturbance.
- After cramping, residual pain can sometimes occur in the affected muscles.
- About 20% of people who experience Charley horses get symptoms daily which may be severe enough for sufferers to seek medical intervention.
- Currently, there is no effective and safe treatment for leg cramps but there are several treatment options.
- Generally, infrequent Charley horses are treatable at home. However, more frequent leg spasms are often associated with underlying medical conditions. A visit to a qualified doctor can help in determining the cause of frequent Charley horses and the right treatment to use.
It should also be noted that though leg cramps are painful, they are harmless.
What Causes Leg Cramps?
Leg cramps can be as a result of several factors, including dehydration, kidney disease, birth control pills, steroids, and diuretics for high blood
Many other things can trigger a leg cramp. They include:
- Staying in awkward positions for too long, causing poor blood circulation in the legs
- Vigorous exercises
- Muscle trauma
- Lack of magnesium and/or potassium
- Not stretching enough
- Spinal cord injuries or nerve issues in the neck or back
- Being active in hot temperatures
- Cold weather
How to Prevent Leg Cramps
There are several ways to alleviate nighttime leg cramps.
- When you notice the cramps setting in, the best way to relieve them is either by walking around or simply shaking your leg. Additionally, you can rub the muscles to reduce the pain.
- Cool compresses can also help in relieving chronic leg cramps. They work by numbing pain and alleviating soreness.
- People who regularly experience leg cramps should also try to strengthen their leg muscles. This will help reduce the occurrence of cramps.
Other Preventive Measures
- During activity
To prevent cramps, health experts suggest stretching before and after exercise or sport routines, enough warm-up and cool down. People who engage in vigorous activities should avoid dehydration before, during, and after what they do. Good hydration is vital, especially if the duration of activity exceeds an hour. A replacement of lost electrolytes and components of perspiration such as sodium and potassium is necessary. Extreme tiredness, especially in warm weather, should also be avoided.
- While experiencing dystonic cramps
Leg cramps that are caused by repetitive sedentary lifestyle can be somewhat prevented or reduced by avoiding high heels, taking breaks between activities, and adjusting sitting position. Practicing how to avoid excessive anxiety can help too. However, note that leg cramps can prove very painful during activities that are hard to modify.
- During pregnancy
Magnesium and calcium supplements have each been found to help in preventing leg cramps linked to pregnancy. Taking adequate amounts of both of these minerals during pregnancy is essential for pregnancy-induced Charley horses. However, supervision by a qualified healthcare professional is vital.
Treatment Options for Leg Cramps
If you experience leg cramps can be relieved with analgesic balms sold over-the-counter at pharmacies. Additionally, to prevent or alleviate muscle cramps in your calves, you can start by making basic lifestyle changes. Staying hydrated is essential, especially as cramps are often due to dehydration. Eating healthy with lots of fruits and vegetables can also help in minimizing the frequency of leg cramps.
For home remedies, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends:
- Avoiding activities that induce the cramp
- Massaging and stretching the leg muscle
- Holding the leg in the stretched position until the cramp stops
- Applying heat packs to tense leg muscles
- Applying cold packs on tender leg muscles
- If you are an athlete, eat a potassium-rich banana after sport activity
- Taking supplements like magnesium to reduce leg cramps
Magnesium Supplements for Leg Cramps
Thankfully, there are certain vitamins and minerals, particularly magnesium and potassium, that positively impact muscle function. Several studies have also indicated that increasing your magnesium intake can help with minimizing the frequency of night time leg cramps, especially for women who are pregnant.
As a matter of fact, health experts recommend getting a daily intake of at least 300 milligrams of magnesium. Aside eating foods rich in magnesium, magnesium supplements can help you reach your daily allowance.
The Bottom Line
From all indications, leg cramps or Charley horses are common and can happen in the calf muscle at any time. Of course, they’re sometimes preventable and usually treatable. In fact, leg pains caused by spasms typically do not last beyond a day.
The trick is to plan self-care ahead of time, especially if your leg cramps seem to be as a result of vigorous exercise. Take lots of fluids and eat well-balanced meals before heading out for exercises or sports. Also, you can consider the use of magnesium supplements in relieving the cramps. However, if you experience Charley horses more frequently than you should, then it’s smart to talk with your doctor about treatment options.