Night leg cramps are abrupt contractions within the muscle of the leg. Often referred to as nocturnal leg cramps, this sudden tightening is usually isolated to the calves, but you may also experience these contractions within your feet. However, leg cramps aren't an actual disorder all on their own. They are frequently a symptom of an underlying issue or even condition, making a cure dependent on the cause of the cramps.
Night leg cramps are caused by some level of dehydration for some people. As the muscles of the legs are deprived of fluids, they can begin to involuntarily contract, which causes cramps. If you are suffering from leg cramps due to dehydration, make sure to increase the amount of fluids that you drink each day. A good goal is around 64 oz. per day.
It is also possible that muscle fatigue is causing the nocturnal leg cramps. In this situation, you may need to manually relax the affected muscle by massaging the leg. This should be followed with a combination of heat and cold therapy. Apply heat to the affected area for up to 15 minutes to soothe and loosen cramped muscles. Follow with an icing for the same amount of time to reduce swelling.
Night leg cramps have also been linked to certain medications. This would essentially be a side effect of the drug. Blood pressure medications are one of the more common culprits, but you may also experience cramping due to statins, lithium or morphine. If prescription medications are the reason for your nighttime cramping, talk to your doctor about switching to a new medication to treat your condition. Once you are off the drug, you should see a change in night leg cramps.
Sometimes, nighttime leg cramps are caused by some sort of vitamin deficiency. Potassium is one of the more common vitamins that can cause muscle contractions, but you may find cramping a result of a lack of calcium or magnesium. Start taking a multivitamin to counteract the leg cramps.
Pregnancy can also contribute to nocturnal leg cramps, especially in the last trimester. This is largely due to strain and fatigue of the muscles. Instead of massaging the area when cramps occur, take a more proactive approach by preventing them before they start with a few stretches. One of the more effective is a modified lunge, so face a wall and sturdy your hands against it. Step one foot back and bring your heal to the floor, stretching the muscles of the calf. Repeat for the other leg. It is also important to continue exercising and drinking plenty of fluids during your pregnancy, as these activities can go a long way to stopping the nocturnal cramps.
Though not as common as other reasons, night leg cramps can also be due to an underlying disease. For some people, the development of diabetes or hypoglycemia could cause your legs to cramp. For others, Parkinson's disease or peripheral artery disease is the reason for the muscle contractions. It may even be a disorder of the kidney or liver. If your cramping is a direct result of a disease, the best method of treatment is better managing and controlling your health and condition. Once you have your condition under control, employ the practice of fluids, massage, stretching and heat or cold therapy.