Consider these strategies to prevent nocturnal leg cramps.
It’s almost Halloween, and something spooky may be waking you up at night. Is it a ghost? A monster? No, worse … it’s leg cramps! Waking up with a cramp can be extremely painful and shocking. Patients often come to Fitzgibbons Vein Center for help with this issue.
Medical reasons for leg cramps can include spinal stenosis, arthritis, arterial disease and venous disease. Treating any of these should help to alleviate your cramps. However some patients still have severe leg cramps for no apparent medical reason.
Very little research has been done on leg cramps since they aren’t life-threatening, but here are a few ideas—from the scientific to old wives’ tales—to try to reduce them.
Often, leg cramps are cause by dehydration—such as the kind experienced by soccer or football players during games. For nocturnal leg cramps, some patients see improvement when they increase their daily water intake. If that doesn’t work, “drink water before [you] go to bed,” says Dr. Terrence J. Fitzgibbons. “Of course then they’re going to have to get up, but that’s better than getting a cramp that wakes them up.”
Cramps can be caused by obesity or an overly sedentary lifestyle, such as sitting in front of a desk all day. Try to slowly and safely increase your exercise routines and get to a healthy weight. “A lot of people need to lose some weight, and that’s easy to tell people but hard to do,” says Dr. Fitzgibbons.
You can also relieve your cramps with some stretching. Keep your heel on the ground and lean forward to stretch the calf and thigh muscles on the back of the leg. “There’s a lot of physical therapists and people who think that stretching, especially stretching the calf muscles, helps right before they go to bed,” says Dr. Fitzgibbons.
While Dr. Fitzgibbons doesn’t endorse supplements and homeopathic medicine, he has had patients report that they helped. “There’s a lot of homeopathic treatments that have been tried, and they haven’t been able to prove that they work mainly because the benefit is probably very small,” Dr. Fitzgibbons says. “I can’t say that these things don’t do any good, and I have a lot of patients come in and tell me, ‘Oh, this helped.’”
Because some people think leg cramps are caused by a lack of electrolytes or potassium, eating more bananas or drinking sports drinks with electrolytes might help. Some patients say that they have been helped by vitamin B12, potassium, tonic water, magnesium, or taking an aspirin or Advil before going to bed.
What Not to Do
For nocturnal leg cramps, don’t use topical treatments like Icy Hot or a heating pad. Leaving it on for too long can be dangerous or a fire hazard, and you can’t predict whether or not a cramp is coming.
Compression stockings are also not recommended at night (unless you are already wearing them for vein ablation recovery). “The problem with compression at night is that it is squeezing your leg, … like a strangling,” Dr. Fitzgibbons says. “If you lay in bed and fall asleep with stockings on, we think it’s too much tension.”
Call for an Appointment
If you suffer from nocturnal leg cramps, contact the Fitzgibbons Vein Center for a consultation. Dr. Fitzgibbons can help you determine if they are being caused by venous or other medical disease.