ROCHESTER, Minn. — Night leg cramps can be an unpleasant surprise. They disrupt sleep with a jolt of pain, most often in the calf. The January issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter offers ways to prevent these painful — but typically harmless — cramps.
The pain from night leg cramps can vary in intensity and last from just a few seconds to 15 minutes or more. Cramps are most common in the calf, but also can affect the feet or thighs. While the risk of night leg cramps increases with age, pinpointing an exact cause is often difficult. Possible causes include dehydration; prolonged sitting; inadequate amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium in the diet; and medications including diuretics, beta blockers and others used to treat blood pressure. Night leg cramps also can be associated with thyroid conditions, diabetes or cancer that has spread to the spine.
The Mayo Clinic Health Letter offers tips for prevention:
Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids helps the muscles contract and relax more easily. Replenishing fluids is especially important when engaging in physical activity.
Stretch before bed: For those who experience night leg cramps, stretching before bed can help.
Do light exercise: Riding a stationary bike a few minutes before bed may help prevent cramps during sleep.
Choose the right shoes: Wear shoes that offer plenty of support.
Untuck the covers: Loosening covers at the foot of the bed may reduce the incidence of night leg cramps.
When a calf cramp occurs, putting weight on the affected leg and slightly bending the knee can offer relief. If putting weight on the leg is too painful, flexing the foot can help. Gently massaging the affected muscle may relax the muscle. Applying ice or a cold pack may reduce pain. Another option is applying heat, with a warm towel, heating pad or by taking a warm bath or shower.
Mayo Clinic Health Letter is an eight-page monthly newsletter of reliable, accurate and practical information on today's health and medical news. To subscribe, please call 800-333-9037 (toll-free), extension 9771, or visit Mayo Clinic Health Letter Online.
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