home
RSS
Get Some Sleep: Avoid frequent leg cramping
Leg cramps usually involve sudden, intense pain, unlike RLS, which is usually a steady, uncomfortable feeling that lasts for hours.
August 2nd, 2011
12:19 PM ET

Get Some Sleep: Avoid frequent leg cramping

Lisa Shives, M.D., is the founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. She blogs regularly on The Chart. Read more from her at Dr. Lisa Shives’ Sleep Better Blog.

It is frustrating, to both patients and doctors, that modern medical science often lacks understanding of or treatment for common, everyday ailments.

One such ailment, leg cramps, is very common and yet poorly understood. It often plagues people at night, and therefore “sleep-related leg cramps” is recognized as a bona fide sleep disorder by the International Classification of Sleep Disorders.

Most people have had a “charley horse” and know that leg cramps can be quite painful. Leg cramps result from the sudden, intense and involuntary contraction of a muscle or muscle group. They usually occur in the calf muscle or the small muscles of the feet.

If this happens once a year, few people think of this as a medical condition, but there are people who have leg cramps every night, sometimes several times a night. The cramps can prevent people from falling asleep or can awaken them many times during the night, and therefore leg cramps can lead to chronic sleep deprivation.

The painful sensation is usually relieved by strenuous stretching of the affected muscle. Often, people jump out of bed in their attempt to stop the searing pain. Both the prevalence and frequency increase as people age. There is research showing that approximately one-third of all people over the age of 60 and one-half of those over the age of 80 reported having sleep-related leg cramps once in the previous two months. Six percent of adults over the age of 60 have reported having leg cramps that disturb them every night.

Leg cramps are sometimes confused with restless legs syndrome (now known as Willis-Ekbom disease), but the two disorders are quite different, although patients can have both problems.

RLS is not commonly described as a sudden, intense pain. Also, people who suffer from RLS usually have a steady, uncomfortable feeling in the legs that lasts for hours, and this maddening feeling is only temporarily relieved for a few minutes while they move or rub their legs.

There are some medical conditions that seem to predispose people to leg cramps such as diabetes, peripheral vascular disease and neuromuscular disorders. Medications such as oral contraceptives have been associated with leg cramps. They occur in approximately 40% of pregnant women and usually resolve after birth.

If leg cramping is frequent and intense, people should not assume that they have benign, idiopathic (of unknown cause) leg cramps. It is advised to consult a physician in order to differentiate leg cramps from more serious medical conditions such as akathisia, myelopathy, peripheral neuropathy and disorders of calcium imbalance.

There are numerous theories about the cause of leg cramps but little evidence supporting the veracity of any given theory. One common notion is that they result from dehydration, but the little research done does not support this.

Also common is the idea that there is a relative electrolyte imbalance. Magnesium and potassium are popular culprits. Again, there is little research on this. One study attempted to treat leg cramps in a group of pregnant women and found that magnesium was no better than a placebo.

The same is true for potassium deficiency; there is no research showing that low potassium causes leg cramps or that taking extra potassium prevents them. That said, I have patients who swear that a banana before bed takes care of the leg cramping problem. I also know people who report that sitting in a bath of Epsom salts right before bed helps ward off  nocturnal leg cramps.

I have patients who think that the leg cramps come upon them only when they exercise strenuously, and then there are those who associate the cramps with lack of exercise. The best theory is the “squatting hypothesis,” which speculates that leg cramping is associated with the modern habit of sitting on chairs and on the toilet instead of squatting as our forebears would have done.

I believe that is just another way of saying that leg cramps could be caused by a lack of strengthening and stretching of the calf and feet muscles.

Follow @CNNHealth on Twitter

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

Post by:
Filed under: Pain • Sleep

soundoff (463 Responses)
  1. Social Media Marketing Companies Near Me

    https://www.esto.tomsk.gov.ru/bitrix/rk.php?id=5&event1=banner&event2=click&event3=1+2F+5B55D+5Bindexright15D+D093D098D0A1+D092D098D0AD+D0A2D09E&goto=https3A2F2Faffordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Digital Marketing Specialist

    http://pikmlm.ru/out.php?p=http://affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Content Marketing Program

    https://www.fif-orientering.dk/FIF/count/go.asp?site=https://www.affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Seo Marketing Specialist

    Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon everyday. It will always be helpful to read through articles from other authors and practice a little something from other sites.

    https://domodedovo-city.ru/plug.php?e=go&url=https://affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Social Media Marketing Specialists

    I absolutely love your blog.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you create this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as I’m trying to create my own site and want to know where you got this from or just what the theme is named. Appreciate it!

    https://admin122.com/demo/go.php?target_url=https://affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 18:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Social Media Marketing Jobs Orange County

    You are so cool! I don't think I've truly read through something like that before. So great to discover someone with a few genuine thoughts on this subject. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This site is one thing that is needed on the web, someone with some originality!

    http://inploid.com/l/?url=http://affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 19:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Content Marketing Boutique

    Hi, I do think this is an excellent site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I am going to revisit once again since I saved as a favorite it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide others.

    https://www.allhyipmonitor.customwebmaker.com/goto.php?url=https://affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 20:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Content Marketing Mentor

    https://qjn.focusongrammar.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 21:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Internet Marketing Firms

    http://duraflame.org/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Google Marketing Studio

    Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful article. Thank you for supplying these details.

    http://joseluislandry.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 13:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Internet Marketing Mentor

    Aw, this was a really nice post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to create a great article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and don't seem to get anything done.

    http://www.studentlistings.com/link.asp?u=http://affordableranking.com&c=11

    May 10, 2021 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Content Marketing Masters

    bookmarked!!, I love your website!

    http://52xicheqi.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Social Media Marketing Near Me

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article! It's the little changes that produce the most significant changes. Many thanks for sharing!

    http://www.german-grandma.com/out.php?http://www.affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Social Media Marketing Help Near Me

    A fascinating discussion is worth comment. I think that you ought to publish more on this subject, it might not be a taboo matter but generally people don't talk about such issues. To the next! Many thanks!!

    http://www.100blackmen.us/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 20:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Local Marketing Company

    Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank you, However I am going through issues with your RSS. I don’t understand why I am unable to join it. Is there anybody else having identical RSS problems? Anyone that knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanx!!

    https://auditpravorf.ru/?goto=https://affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 21:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Social Media Marketing Companies Cypress

    Good blog you've got here.. It’s hard to find high quality writing like yours these days. I really appreciate people like you! Take care!!

    http://www.viziteurope.ru/bitrix/redirect.php?event1=catalog_out&event2=http2F2A&goto=http://affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Local Marketing Agencies

    http://www.navitrinu.ru/redirect/?go=http://www.affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 23:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Social Media Marketing Agency

    I was pretty pleased to find this web site. I need to to thank you for ones time just for this fantastic read!! I definitely appreciated every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff on your website.

    https://www.bike4u.ru/news/597/redirect.php?go=affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 23:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Content Marketing Quote

    This website was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something that helped me. Thanks!

    http://www.windsorpie.com/home/link.php?url=http://affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 23:57 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Leave a Reply to Billygem


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.