How to Avoid and Treat Night Cramps

August 19, 2014 Providence Health Team

Night cramps can be a nightmare. They often appear with little or no warning – typically in the calf, foot or thigh – and the pain ranges from irritating to intense. While the cause of night cramps is still a bit of a mystery, the risk of leg cramps does increase with age.

Pregnancy, various medications, changes in exercise habits and a lack of potassium or calcium have also been linked to night cramps. The good news is there are preventive measures you can try to keep cramps at bay.

Preventing Night Cramps

Stay hydrated – Dehydration is sometimes associated with leg cramps. So drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Limit your alcohol and caffeine, as they encourage dehydration.

Wear the right shoes – Choose shoes that combine stability and comfort. Shoes with proper support can help prevent leg cramps both during the day and at night.

Do light evening exercise – Simple exercise like a 15-minute walk or a low-impact stationary bike ride before bed helps circulate the blood, warm your muscles and ward off nighttime cramps.

Stretch before bed – Make a habit of gently stretching your hamstrings, thighs (quadriceps), calves and soles of your feet before turning in at night. And, as a rule of thumb, make sure to stretch after daytime exercise, too.

Treating Night Cramps

If you do suffer from night cramps, there are easy home remedies to help relieve the discomfort.

Massage the muscle – Gently massage the area that is cramping to help the cramped muscle relax. If you have a tennis ball handy, these are particularly useful for a calming rolling massage.

Apply heat or cool – Apply a heating pad or ice pack to the cramped muscle. Remember to keep a cloth between your skin and ice pack. A hot shower is also a simple way to apply heat to the cramp and it can help relax you back into sleep mode.

Try an over-the-counter medication – Pain medications, such as ibuprofen, that also treat inflammation, can alleviate both swelling and pain associated with cramping. Carefully read the instructions before taking any medication.

These uninvited night cramps should be manageable and shouldn’t impair your general well-being. If they consistently interfere with your sleep – or if you experience swelling, pain or numbness in your muscles – see your primary care provider.

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