Have you ever been jarred out of a lovely sleep by a sudden and shocking pain in your leg? These involuntary muscle fiber contractions are an occasional nuisance for some, and a too frequent problem for others. If you suffer from leg cramps and are seeking relief, read on to learn more about the causes and natural remedies available to prevent and treat these aggravating and painful episodes.
The most common sites for cramping are the calves, thighs, feet, abdomen, and arms, but cramps can occur in any area of the body. The risk of cramping increases with age, and pregnant women are especially prone. People who exercise a lot or have motor neuron disorders are also more likely to experience cramping.
Causes of Leg Cramps
Muscle cramps are most often caused by overuse of muscles or excessive strain. This happens when you engage in a new activity and muscles get stretched and pulled in ways they have not moved in a while. That does not mean you should avoid new activities. Your body is simply telling you to ease into the activities a bit more slowly, and practice self-care to ensure your muscles stay nice and relaxed.
Repetitive motions and movements that unexpectedly extend muscles in new directions can trigger muscles to contract. Researchers suggest this is due to a malfunction in the body's motor neuron messaging pathway. Other factors that may cause cramps include dehydration, low levels of key electrolytes, nerve disorders, or kidney problems.
Natural Remedies to Prevent Cramps
This supplement is frequently touted as a remedy for leg cramps, but research suggests the effect depends on which population is experiencing the cramps. Studies showed no indication that magnesium prevented cramping in adults of advanced age, but they found it may have a preventative effect for pregnant women. Research suggests pregnant women are at higher risk for magnesium deficiency so that may contribute to the level of effectiveness for this group.
Quinine has been prescribed to treat leg cramps for years, but recent studies have indicated it may have a negative impact on heart rhythm and bleeding disorders. While quinine is still used to treat malaria, experts have stated it is too risky and no longer approved for treating muscle cramps. You should consult your physician before trying this remedy.
Turmeric is a spice containing a chemical called curcumin that is used to treat inflammation and pain. Our Trusted Nutrients brand combines Turmeric Curcumin with Bioperine®, which serves as a nutrient enhancer by helping the body to properly metabolize the curcumin. The ingredient combination is intended to promote joint and muscle health as well as repair damaged muscle tissue, which may help to relieve cramping.
Yet another anti-inflammatory with pain relieving properties, apple cider vinegaris a go to remedy for many people who suffer from leg cramps. One reason this remedy might work on cramps is its potassium content. Since low potassium can induce an electrolyte imbalance that triggers cramping, this vinegar replenishes the deficit and staves off any painful cramps.
In addition to supplements and other oral remedies, there are several self-care steps you can take to prevent muscle cramps as well as alleviate the pain and soreness you might experience after the cramp has abated. The following are some simple ways you can address a cramping problem:
Stretching Techniques to Release Cramping Muscles
Leg cramps at night often target the calf muscle. If you awaken suddenly with one of these "charley horse" cramps, you may be able to stretch it away. It might seem counterintuitive to pull on a cramping muscle but gripping your foot and bending it toward your head to stretch your calf muscle can provide immediate relief.
You can also try massaging the muscle to encourage release. One massage technique that is particularly effective for cramping muscles is reciprocal inhibition. That involves applying tension to the muscle on the opposite side of a joint from the muscle that is cramping. For example, if a lower leg muscle is cramping, you can apply tension to the upper leg muscles to trigger the cramping muscle to relax.
When Does Cramping Require Medical Attention?
Sometimes natural remedies and self-care are not enough to control cramping and you need to seek medical attention. According to the Mayo Clinic, If the cramping is severe and relentless, the interruptions are preventing you from getting adequate sleep, or you are experiencing muscle weakness or inflammation, you should make an appointment to see a doctor.
Determining the best remedy for leg cramps might require some trial and error since it is often difficult to determine the cause of cramping. You may find a combination of remedies is most effective.