If you've ever woken up in excruciating pain because of leg cramps that cause knots in your leg muscles, you're probably desperate to figure out how to stop them. First, you must understand what causes them. There are a number of things that can cause night time leg cramps --also known as charlie horses-- to occur. Cramps can be brought on by electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, muscle fatigue, thyroid imbalances, and being over weight.
Maintain a healthy weight. Because being overweight seems to be one of the triggers that causes charlie horses, maintaining an ideal weight for your height will help eliminate one of the risk factors.
Don't push yourself too hard. If you're trying to get into shape, take it slow. Exercising too hard or too long early in your training will lead to muscle fatigue. Try resting every other day, to give your tired muscles a chance to recover.
Stretch your calves often. Make this part of your daily routine, preferably performing it right before you go to bed. Sitting down with your legs extended in front of you, reach out to grab your big toes, and pull your feet towards your knees. If you're not flexible enough to do this, wrap a belt or scarf across the soles of your feet, and pull the ends so that you're pulling the toes towards the knees.
Stay hydrated. One of the most common causes of night time leg cramps is not drinking enough water. Drink at least 64 ounces of water each day. Break these up into eight servings of eight ounces each, to give your body the opportunity to absorb what it needs. Remember that caffeine is a natural diuretic, which means that it robs your body of stored water. If you drink caffeine on a regular basis, try weaning yourself off of it. At the very least, make up for caffeine intake by drinking more than the suggested daily intake of water.
Research your medications. Some medications, such as statin drugs and some steroids (such as predisone) cause imbalances in the body's chemistry. Find out if the medications you're on list leg or muscle cramps as a side effect. If so, talk to your doctor about what (if any) medications they can put you on to counter this effect.
Maintain a healthy diet, with foods containing plenty of calcium and potassium. Because leg cramps are often caused by electrolyte levels in the body being out of balance, it's important to have enough calcium and potassium in your system. If you don't like yogurt, dairy products, or bananas, visit your local pharmacy to buy supplements made specifically for leg cramps. These supplements contain the electrolytes needed to alleviate cramping.
Have your thyroid checked. If you've tried all of these simple remedies, and your night time leg cramps persist, make an appointment with your doctor. By feeling your thyroid and ordering certain blood tests, your doctor can determine if your thyroid is causing your charlie horses, and can offer advice and/or medication to get your thyroid functioning correctly.