Ever gotten a cramp in your leg so painful that it wakes you up out of a sound sleep? Chances are, you have. In fact, one study out of France involving over 500 people 60 years of age or older found nearly half reported that cramps are a frequent problem.1
The cause of leg cramps
You know that feeling. That tightening, spasming, wretched feeling in your calf, foot, or even thigh muscles. You could be falling asleep, just on the verge of waking up, or sound asleep when the pain strikes. Even after the pain dissipates, soreness often remains.
While anyone can experience a cramp at night, those over 50 are more susceptible. They can happen for a number of reasons, including dehydration, a lack of movement, or, quite often, from an electrolyte imbalance.
What’s an electrolyte? Electrolytes are calcium, potassium, sodium and other minerals that become charged when in a solution like the fluid found inside or around cells. They work by carrying electrical impulses across cell membranes to other cells. Cells rely on electrolytes for a number of functions, but especially for normal muscle contraction. Throw the balance of these electrolytes off, and you’ve got yourself a heck of a muscle cramp.
Certain medications can also make you more vulnerable to cramps by depleting levels of potassium, calcium and magnesium in the body. This is particularly true with diuretic medications that are often prescribed for high blood pressure.
Cut out the cramps
If a cramp wakes you up, gently rub the area to help the muscle relax. Flexing your foot can also help to stretch the muscle. If that doesn’t help, or doesn’t help enough, put a warm towel or heating pad on the area, or, if you want to get out of bed, take a warm shower or bath.
Prevent the pain
Night time leg cramps are rarely serious enough to warrant a doctor’s visit. But they are a hassle, especially if they’re disrupting your sleep. Several things can help minimize them. Here are a few suggestions:
- Stay hydrated. Getting enough liquids during the day can help you from getting dehydrated throughout the night. Water also helps your muscles contract and relax more smoothly. Drinking enough during the day is even more important when you’re exercising (which, of course, you should be doing!).
- Stretch before bed. Before turning in, do a few gentle all-over body stretches. Pay particular attention to your legs. Try this one: Stand facing a wall, which you can use if you need for balance. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Step back with your right foot, gently bend your left knee, and try to get your right foot flat on the ground. Keep bending your left knee until you feel the stretch in your right calf. Return to the starting position then repeat on the other side.
- Untuck the covers. Make sure they’re loose enough so your feet and legs have room to move throughout the night and your toes are not distorted.
- Consider a daily supplement like Replace® SR. It uses an advanced delivery technology to release a continuous supply of electrolytes slowly over a 4- to 6-hour period as your body needs them. And its balanced formula includes magnesium and potassium with phosphates for buffering and absorption.*
1. Maisonneuve H, Chambe J, Delacour C, et al. Prevalence of cramps in patients over the age of 60 in primary care: a cross sectional study. BMC Fam Pract. 2016;17(1):111. PMID: 27520635.* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.