If you are jumping or falling out of bed due to Leg cramps you are not alone. They can be excruciating causing you to thrash about screaming out in pain.
In general just about everyone has experienced leg cramping or a Charley-horse as some call it at least once in their life time. Athletes and those dealing with illness are at greater risk for nocturnal leg cramps.
Symptoms of leg cramping are tightness in leg and feet muscles. If it is the calf muscle you may feel the muscle as rock hard. Sometimes you can see or feel the muscle pulsating or contracting. There are different levels of pain intensity and it can last anywhere from thirty seconds to an hour. Sometimes the muscle can be sore for a couple of days, depending on level of physical activity. According to Mayo Clinic Night leg or Nocturnal cramps are sudden, painful, involuntary contractions of muscles in your leg involving your calf muscles, feet or thighs.
- Muscle fatigue
- Low or imbalanced electrolytes; magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium
- Low blood magnesium: hypomagnesemia
- Low blood calcium: hypocalcemia
- Low blood salt
- Medications; diuretics
- Kidney disease
- Hypothyroidism or thyroid disease
- Restless-leg syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
- Peripheral artery disease
- Bowel surgery
- Excessive vomiting
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Acidic Ph balance
Although this list may seem rather frightening it is important to rule out underlying problems to alleviate muscle cramping. If you are taking medications, there is an increased risk of developing some of these factors due to medication side effects, and vitamin and mineral depletion. It is important to review your medicine and prescription history with your physician.
Why Vitamins and Minerals are the key to healthy muscle stimulation
Muscles require calcium to contract; when calcium enters the muscle cells. Magnesium then
builds up, allowing calcium to exit the cell, allowing the muscle ability to relax. Low blood levels of either calcium or magnesium directly increase the excitability of both the nerve endings and the muscles they stimulate. If there is a deficiency, cramping will happen thus decreasing the availability of calcium and magnesium in body fluids as it tries stop the muscle cramp further depleting already low reserves.
Basically if you are cramping it is because the muscle has either too much calcium keeping it contracted or too little magnesium to allow it to relax.
Calcium is mainly absorbed in the duodenum and a high acidic state allows for better absorption; however the acidic state of the stomach also plays a role. If there are malabsorption problems along with low hydrochloric acid (HCl), common in those with digestive disturbances and disease such as Crohn’s Disease, blood levels of calcium will be insufficient.
Vitamin D stimulates calcium absorption and reabsorption in the kidneys regulating and maintaining blood calcium levels and proper absorption. Decreased intake of calcium can happen from factors such as blood loss, surgery, bowel resections and malabsorption. Foods highest in calcium are green leafy vegetables, and dairy products which are not usually consumed by the average adult and those with digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel, Colitis and Crohn’s disease. The use of diuretics such as caffeine, and over-the-counter/prescription medications as well as Tetracyclines and Corticosteroids also deplete calcium levels.
Magnesium, the second most abundant mineral next to potassium in our body finds twenty-five percent in the muscle with the majority in the mitochondria. The majority of magnesium absorption takes place in the jejunum, ileum and large intestines. Magnesium works synergistically with calcium to regulate absorption.
Magnesium deficiency is common in North America as it is found in whole unprocessed foods, which most do not consume. Some deficiency symptoms include fatigue, irritability, weakness, anxiety and poor nail growth. A deficiency can come from any condition that causes a shift in electrolyte balance such as diuretic medications, laxatives, caffeine, surgery, bowel resection, prolonged diarrhea, dehydration and sweating. Phytate acid found in grains and cereals binds to minerals, such as magnesium in the intestinal tract inhibiting the absorption and utilization.
Thyroid and Parathyroid play a significant role in magnesium metabolism through hormonal production. Hyperthyroidism involves low levels of magnesium and hypothyroidism involves high levels of magnesium, disrupting other mineral levels. Hyperparathyroidism and hypoparathyroid will result in lowered magnesium levels. Your physician can order test to check the functioning of your thyroid and hormones.
Suffering with Inflammatory Bowel Disease usually involves an electrolyte (and vitamin and mineral) imbalance. Surgery, lack of fluids, night sweats, and outlook on life, mood and behavior all affect the delicate balance of electrolytes. Electrolytes are made up of magnesium, calcium, as well as potassium and sodium with the later making up the majority of electrolytes. Electrolytes carry a positive electrical charge allowing potassium and sodium to be actively charged in and out of cells allowing for fluid balance.
Sodium and potassium work synergistically responsible for maintaining fluid balance inside and outside of the cells. In a dehydrated state hormones stimulated by the kidneys and adrenal glands stimulate water conversation to keep blood volumes pumping optimally. In a dehydrated state, muscle cramping including heart and bowel spasms can occur. Behavioral, physiological and hormonal issues can cause an electrolyte imbalance s well as not taking in adequate water. An electrolyte deficiency can cause symptoms like muscle weakness, muscle cramps, bowel cramping, fatigue, and abdominal bloating.
Watch your sugar, cola and carbohydrate intake. As early as 1965, researchers observed “that leg cramps and restless-leg syndrome result from excess insulin, sometimes called hyperinsulinemia. Hypoglycemia and reactive hypoglycemia are associated with excess insulin and avoidance of low blood glucose concentration may help to avoid cramps.” In other words too much sugar, refined carbohydrates may be a contributing factor to leg cramps.
What can you do to prevent Nocturnal Muscle cramps?
Increase magnesium rich foods such as gluten free whole grains, brown rice, raw almonds, roasted cashews and seeds. Raw almonds can be soaked overnight in water and will be easier to digest and absorb vital nutrients.
You can also discuss with your health care practioner proper supplementation of magnesium. Daily recommended intake of supplemental Magnesium
Men under 30 400mg
Men over 30 420 mg
Women under 30 310 mg
Women over 30 320 mg
Increase foods rich in calcium such as green leafy vegetables. If eating raw vegetables is out of the question, and usually is with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, try steaming vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli.
Daily recommended intake of supplemental calcium
Men 1000 mg
14-18 yrs 1000mg
Over 50 yrs 1200mg
14-18 yrs 1300mg
over 50 yrs 1200mg
Please note always take calcium with magnesium. Taking calcium on its own may lead to kidney stones. Look for a supplement that contains vitamin D, and phosphorus and zinc.
Avoid supplementation of calcium if you have impaired kidney function, history of kidney or bladder stones, constipation or dehydration
Vitamin D should be taken as D3, not D2. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and needs to be taken under the supervision of a qualified health care practioner. Too much of this vitamin can upset the balance of other vitamins, including calcium and magnesium and can cause toxicity. Fish oils are a great way to get natural source vitamin D and is a natural antioxidant. The sun is a great source all you need is 15- 30 minutes of sunshine on bare arms and face.
Daily recommended intake of supplemental Vitamin D3
Men 200 IU
over 50 yrs 400 IU
over 70 yrs 600 IU
Women 200 IU
over 50 yrs 400 IU
over 70 yrs 600 IU
It is important to hydrate. The best way to hydrate is with water. Water is the most primal and restorative commodity in the world that can alleviate illness and to restore health. Brain tissue and muscle are comprised of 85% water. The body is designed to use water to help pump volumes of blood throughout your arteries, helps chemical messengers communicate and to keep hormones working properly.
When you become thirsty your body sends out signals of thirst. Sometimes, we interpret thirst as wanting cola, coffee or tea. Caffeine drinks are diuretics which mean they increase urine flow which further dehydrates causing an electrolyte imbalance. According to Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, author of Your Body’s Many Cries For Water, colitis pain felt in the lower left part of the abdomen should initially be viewed as another thirst signal for the human body. When there is dehydration there will be an insufficient an amount of water to allow of proper elimination of fecal matter, thus causing pain.
How much water do you need?
Ideally, the amount is based on your body weight. Take your body weight (in pounds) divide by 2, this represents the number of ounces you require for daily maintenance. Let’s use a 150lb person.
Example: 150 pounds ÷ 2 = 75 ounces,
75 ÷ 8 = 9.4 8oz glasses per day
Drink room temperature water and add a pinch of grey Celtic sea salt, or pink Himalayan salt. Both are natural sources, unprocessed and high in all minerals and trace minerals including essential electrolytes, potassium and sodium chloride.
Keep sugar and refined carbohydrates to a minimum and replace with fruits, and complex whole grains that will keep blood sugar levels regulated.
Try stretching your calf muscles with wall pushups and apply heating for 10 minutes before going to bed. Keep blankets loose at the foot of the bed which will help prevent unnatural positioning of your feet and toes.
Arnica cream/gel, or a natural arthritic or sports massage that contains arnica massaged into leg and foot muscles before going to bed may do the trick as these products will increase circulation to the area.
If heat is the trick for you, keep charcoal hot packs beside your bed, there is nothing worse than trying to deal with the pain and sometimes the inability to drag yourself to a heat source. If it is cold that relieves the pain, keep a gel freezer pack near your bed. It will stay cold for hours and quick to grab.
Keep Arnica cream/gel, or a natural arthritic or sports massage beside your bed and massage it into the spasm. Arnica works quickly to alleviate the pain and aids in abating the spasm.
Research your medication. Most of us do not take the time to read what the side effects are to drugs until necessary. Some medications may have muscle spasms or leg cramps as a side effect. Also research for what nutrients the drug depletes. For instance prednisone depletes calcium, folic acid, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamin C, D and zinc. Notice over time Prednisone depletes the necessary nutrients to avoid muscle cramps?
Get lab work down. Have your blood serum and tissue levels of calcium, magnesium, potassium checked as well as vitamin D2 (Supplemental) D3 (blood) levels along with blood sugar and thyroid and parathyroid.
Applying these tips and discussing with your health care practioner are steps you can take to alleviate painful night leg and feet cramps.
The information provided in this article is not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician. This article is not recommending changing any treatment or medication you are taking without consulting with your personal physician or qualified health care practitioner. Before implementing any suggestions seen here please consult with your physician or qualified health care practitioner.
Source: New Enclycopedia Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements and Herbs A Complete Cross Referenced User’s guide for Optimal Health Nicola Reavley
Source: Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion handbook 2nd Edition Ross Pelton, James B. LaValle, Ernest B. Hawkins, Daniel L. Krinsky