If you’ve never been jolted out of bed with painful muscle contractions in your legs, consider yourself lucky. This is an unfortunately common issue, particularly for women.
Q: What are leg cramps?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Leg cramps are an involuntary, sudden, and extremely intense, often painful contraction of the muscles in your upper or lower leg. Sometimes, foot cramps can also trigger cramps in the lower leg. You may hear someone refer to leg cramps as a Charlie horse. Regardless of what you call it, it is uncomfortable at best.
Q: What causes leg cramps at night?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Leg cramps overnight are common, particularly for people who are not very active. They are most experienced by sedentary adults aged 60 or over, who may suffer nocturnal leg cramping every few weeks to every couple of months. Pregnant women are also prone to leg cramps at night, which are thought to be linked to the extra weight and pressure on the body caused by a growing fetus.
Q: Is it possible to stop a leg cramp?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Depending on the severity of the cramp, you may be able to shorten its duration by stretching the muscle affected. Self-massage, along with heat or ice also provide relief. Some people may also find that eating more bananas and other foods high in potassium can prevent some leg cramps. The opposite is also true, and people who have an excess of potassium in their blood may benefit from reducing their potassium intake.
Q: Are nighttime leg cramps the same thing as restless leg syndrome?
Marla Ahlgrimm: No. Although people with restless leg syndrome may experience occasional leg cramping, they are not the same. Restless leg syndrome is more of an involuntary movement of the legs, which, like nocturnal leg cramps, often happens at night. Both conditions are uncomfortable and distracting, but typically not a cause for concern.