How to prevent and relieve nocturnal muscle cramps?
How to prevent night cramps?
Has a sudden, intense and painful contraction in your leg ever woken you up in the middle of the night? Have you had what is called a night cramp which causes an unpleasant and painful sensation and you want it to pass as soon as possible? We will see in this article how a nocturnal cramp is characterized from a physiological point of view and the causes favoring its appearance. Then we will see how to relieve them and the means to prevent them.
What is a muscle cramp?
The symptoms of a cramp are sudden pain due to the involuntary (ie not controlled by the brain) and intense contraction of one or more muscles unable to relax. Cramps are most often benign and can occur during muscular effort or at rest. They usually last a few seconds but may last for several minutes. When a cramp lasts a long time, it causes discomfort and pain may persist in the affected muscle.
The people most at risk of experiencing muscle cramps are pregnant women, the elderly and athletes.
Muscle cramps can occur at night, they are nocturnal cramps. They are to be differentiated from cramps of effort occurring during a physical activity and which are due to an overload of calcium in the muscle and a lack of sodium in the organism. In fact, calcium is essential for muscle contraction and is released in large quantities during exercise.
Night cramps are localized in the calf and foot. They are multi-factorial (several factors can be at the origin). Their main causes would be a lack of trace elements including magnesium, potassium or even salt (sodium chloride) or an imbalance of nutrients.
What are the contributing causes?
There are many factors favoring the occurrence of night cramps:
● Overuse of one or more muscles during the practice of an intense and long-lasting sport or the repeated action of the same muscle. This being accentuated in hot weather
● One or more mineral deficiencies such as magnesium, potassium or calcium
● A long-lasting static position obliges certain muscles to remain contracted for a long time
● Certain diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease or neurological diseases
● Circulatory problems because it causes a lack of oxygenation and supply of essential nutrients to the muscle to ensure its proper functioning
● Certain drugs such as anti-hypertensives (against high blood pressure such as diuretics), cholesterol-lowering drugs (against cholesterol) or drugs used in osteoporosis
● Chronic kidney disease and hemodialysis sessions lead to a significant loss of water and salt
● Poisoning by heavy metals, animal venoms, etc.
How to relieve a cramp?
In most cases, the cramps stop on their own after about 15 minutes. But sometimes they can last longer, leaving more lasting discomfort and pain, so it is essential to relieve the cramp when it occurs to minimize its duration as well as the pain caused.
Stretching soothes cramps. During the contraction it is necessary to stretch the muscle gently while avoiding making a brutal gesture which can cause a muscle tear. Walking also stretches and relaxes the muscle.
Massaging the muscle warms it up and helps to relax it. It is possible to use a cream or a massage gel.
Attention, the bad reflex is to rinse the leg with cold water. Indeed, the cold promotes muscle contraction and causes vasoconstriction. It is therefore necessary to rinse by gradually increasing the temperature of the water to warm the muscle and promote its relaxation.
If nighttime cramps become recurrent, it is called chronic cramping. It is then necessary to consult your doctor because it requires drug treatment.
How to prevent night cramps?
The famous grandmother's remedies can help avoid night cramps, however they are not scientifically proven and their effectiveness has never been demonstrated. For example, putting a piece of Marseille soap at the end of the bed or under the sheets would compensate for potassium deficits or placing magnets under the mattress is supposed to limit the onset of cramps.
To avoid cramps, it is essential to have a balanced and varied diet respecting the 5 fruits and vegetables per day as well as to hydrate regularly and sufficiently (at least 1.5 liters per day). This allows a sufficient supply of trace elements to prevent deficiencies. Hydratis pellets allow better absorption of water and constitute a substantial source of trace elements: Magnesium, Potassium, Chloride, Zinc, Manganese and Sodium Chloride.
Tobacco, alcohol and caffeine should be limited because they are stimulants and promote muscle contractions.
Homeopathy can also be used for prevention. We find Cuprum metallicum 5 CH, of which 5 granules must be taken each evening at bedtime.
Poor venous circulation can be a factor favoring the appearance of cramps, so to improve it it is possible to elevate the legs at night using a cushion placed under the calves and feet.
Finally, massages with essential oils (lavandin, clove and noble laurel) help relax the muscles before sleeping. Attention, essential oils are strongly discouraged for pregnant women and children.