Leg spasms at Night: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
When you are in a gouge during a workout at the gym, finishing a walk around, or even sleeping, suddenly you are doubted over the intensive leg pain. Say hello to the leg spasms. It is called a “charley horse.”
Leg cramps or muscle spasms are common problems that affect the claves, tight muscles, or feet. It involves sudden painful and involuntary contractions of a leg muscle. It often occurs while a person is resting or sleeping and gets relaxed in a few hours. It can last up to nine minutes and leave tenderness in the muscle for about 24 hours.
There are no identifiable reasons why spasms happen in many cases, and they are harmless. But, it can be due to underlying chronic disorders such as peripheral artery disease or diabetes. The highs and calves are two of the most commonly affected areas. However, spasms can strike your feet, hand, arms, or abdomen. They can typically last from several seconds to a few minutes. You often feel a knot when you press the affected area.
Older adult people in the USA affected by muscle spasms are around 65 to 69 years old. About 80% of the affected muscle area is the calf.
Leg cramps affect about 6 percent of the American population, whose conditions seem related to respiratory problems or depression.
A study in America reported that people suffering from COPD also suffer from 46 percent of muscle cramps, which appear to be the primary cause of pain in these populations.
Leg spams can afflict anyone but are the most common in the very young or older people, or who overweight and athletes. The cause for leg cramps runs a wide range from the harmless to things you really need to get checked.
What do you mean by leg spasms?
Leg spasms, also known as leg cramps, could occur when your muscle involuntary and forcibly contracts uncontrollably and cannot relax. It is widespread and can affect any part of your muscle. It can involve all aspects of a muscle or several muscles in a group. The most common site for muscle spasms is thighs, feet, calves, hands, and abdomen. When it occurs in the leg primarily, such spasms are known as “Charley horses.” Leg spasms that happen at night when you are sleeping or at rest are called a nocturnal cramp.
Muscle cramps can range from intensive pain from mild, uncomfortable twitches to severe pain. The spastic muscle may feel more complicated than usual to the touch or appear visibly distorted. It typically lasts from seconds to 15 minutes or longer and may recur multiple times before going away.
How can my leg spasms get triggered?
An individual does not know the exact cause of leg spasms in several cases. Although there are multiple studies that state muscle fatigue or nerve dysfunction plays a significant role in leg cramps. With your foot stretched and the calf muscle shortened, sleeping can also trigger your night cramps.
Another study state that spasms are more common nowadays, as many people no longer do squats. The squat is a position that stretches the calf muscles. Stressing or using a muscle for a long duration can trigger your spasms during or after exertion. It can also affect athletes, especially at the start of a season, if their body is out of condition. Sometimes, nerve damage also plays a vital role in triggering your leg spasms.
Some studies believe that dehydration and electrolyte imbalance can also contribute to muscle spasms. People who exercise continuously in hot weather often experience spasms. However, no scientific proof has confirmed this connection because people who exercise in winter can also experience cramps.
Other conditions that can cause spasms include:
- misuse of alcohol or drugs
- chronic kidney issues
- cirrhosis, cancer treatment, and hemodialysis
- pregnancy especially in later stages
- vascular disease and restless legs syndrome
Older people are more at risk of experiencing leg spasms.
Muscle weakness starts from the mid-40s and increases if the person is not physically active. This may trigger muscle cramps. Some studies state that 50 to 60 percent of adults and 7 percent of children can experience the problem of muscle cramps, and it can increase with age.
Muscle cramps can occur at any time to anyone. Whether you are young, active, sedentary, or old, you may experience a muscle cramp. An individual is prone to leg spasms and gets them regularly with any physical exertion.
What are the symptoms of leg spasms?
Leg spasms may feel like a stitch in the side or be agonizingly painful. You can see a twitch under your skin, and it may feel hard to the touch. The muscles contract, and it takes time for them to relax. It is a widespread problem, especially in older adults or athletes.
If the muscle cramps are severe, frequently are related to apparent causes, or respond poorly to treatment, make an appointment with the expert. The spasms could be linked to underlying factors.
When should I consult a doctor?
Muscle cramps usually disappear on their own and are less severe enough to require medical care or attention. However, you should consult an expert when your spasms cause extreme discomfort is associated with leg swelling, skin changes, or redness. If it is associated with muscle weakness, happens frequently, or does not improve with self-care. Then it is a sign to take an expert’s advice.
Consult the expert immediately if your spasms are not associated with an apparent cause, such as strenuous exercise. It can be linked to underlying chronic health issues.
How can I diagnose my leg spasms?
Leg spasms are usually harmless and do not require any medical attention. However, if your cramps are severe, consult an expert. Avoid relieving it with stretching or persisting it for a long duration. It can be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
To diagnose the cause of your leg spasms, your physician will perform a physical examination, or they may ask you several questions, including:
- Do you take any medicine?
- How often do your leg cramps occur?
- Which muscle is affected?
- Your exercising routine
- Do you consume alcohol?
- How much liquid do you take in a day?
Experts may also recommend you for a blood test to check the calcium level in your body and potassium in your blood and check thyroid and kidney function. They can recommend electromyography. It is a test that measures muscle activity and prevents muscle abnormalities.
An MRI may also be recommended. It is an imaging tool that creates a picture of your spinal cord.
How can medications treat my leg spasms?
The most recommended medications to treat leg spasms are muscle relaxants. They are potent drugs to treat muscle spasticity. Spasms or cramps are a sudden and involuntary contraction of a muscle strain that results in pain. They are associated with issues such as back pain, fibromyalgia, and neck pain.
Potent prescription drugs such as muscle relaxants can help relieve the discomfort and pain from spasticity or spasms. In addition, other over-the-counter medications are also used to treat aches and pains associated with muscle spasms.
Centrally acting skeletal muscle relaxants combine physical therapy and rest to relieve leg spasms. They work by causing sedative effects or preventing your nerves from sending pain signals to your brain.
Experts usually recommend using muscle relaxants for up to two to three weeks. The effect and safety on long-term usage are not yet confirmed. While these muscle relaxants can also be used to treat muscle spasms, they have not worked better than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or acetaminophen.
The common side effects of SMRs include dizziness, headache, drowsiness, nervousness, lowered blood pressure, and reddish or orange urine.
When a leg spasm strikes, you might be exercising, even sleeping, or simply sitting in the middle of the night. If only there is a magical injection that may instantly relieve your pain, these five steps you can try to get relief in your spasm.
- Stand up and walk around.
- Stretch the affected area.
- Massage the affected area with your hand or a roller.
- Apply ice or heat. Put an ice pack together, apply a heating pad, or take a nice warm bath.
- You can also take some pain killers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Some doctors believe that a daily vitamin b12 complex can help get rid of leg spasms.
How can I prevent my leg spasms?
Leg spasms are challenging to prevent. It is slightly unpredictable and can happen anytime. There are certain risk factors that you cannot avoid, like your age. However, several reported methods may help you overcome those risks and prevent muscle spasms.
- Work towards better overall fitness
- perform flexibility exercises regularly
- Drink fluids frequently. Choose water or avoid alcohol and caffeine products.
- Wear shoes that perfectly fit you
- Avoid exercising in hot weather
- Stretch your muscles regularly. Do this especially for those prone to muscle spasms.
- Keep your weight in a healthy state. Try to do the mild exercise right before bed to prevent nocturnal leg spasms.
- Use pillows or something else to keep your toes pointed upwards if you sleep on your back to prevent leg spasms. If you rest on your chest, hang your feet over the end of the bed.
- Stretch your muscles before you go to sleep. When you sleep, keep the blankets and sheets loose around your legs.
Generally, the effects of a cramp will disappear in minutes. But if you face regular cramps or spasms, consult the expert immediately.
Currently, there are no specific medications available to treat recurring leg spasms. However, if your spasms are symptoms of another condition, addressing that underlying issue could relieve you.