One question that I often get asked by my clients at my sports massage clinic is, ‘Why do I keep getting cramps at night?’
Nocturnal leg cramps are pains that people experience at night. They are most frequently experienced in the calves but may also occur in the feet or thighs. Many people often wake up in a state of cramp with the sensation of their muscles contracting and ‘knotting’.
An episode of cramps can last anywhere from a few seconds up to a few minutes. Due to the intense level of muscle contraction involved, nocturnal cramping can leave muscular soreness in the affected area for several days after the event.
The people who tend to experience more common bouts of cramping are the over 50’s, but younger people will also experience it at various times.
What Causes Nocturnal Cramping.
There are many theories on what may cause the cramping.
The NHS states that cramping can sometimes be caused by the following:
– Not drinking enough fluids
– Liver Disease
– Medication to lower cholesterol, or high blood pressure
Other possible causes include:
– Parkinson’s Disease
– Neuromuscular Disorders
– Respiratory Disease
Some researchers have theorised that our modern day lifestyle may contribute to cramping. They link the enhanced tissue health from the time our ancestors spent resting in the squat position (stretching & strengthening the soft tissues), to the modern day where our need to squat has all but been removed.
It has also been theorised that when we lay in bed, our feet are generally kept in a ‘plantar-flexed’ position. This meaning that our toes are pointed. In this position the tissues of the calf are in a shortened state. After being in this shortened position for long periods of time, even a slight movement could trigger cramping.
There is some evidence, the strength of which is questionable, that Magnesium and Calcium deficiencies play a part in these cramps. There is also research to show that people who stand up for long periods of time during the day are more likely to suffer than those who do not.
How Can Nocturnal Cramps be Prevented?
There is some evidence that stretching before bedtime, targeting the hamstrings and calves, could reduce the frequency of cramps by nearly 60%. However, there are also studies which show no correlation!
Increasing the intake of magnesium may have positive effects, as many people do not consume adequate amounts within their diet.
Consuming a larger intake of liquid throughout they day may also be beneficial. The standard recommended amount of water to consume per day is 2 litres. Although, I am not sure how much of that advice is solid evidence based. Either way, as long as you drink when you are thirsty, maintain a pale, straw like urine colour and increase your fluid intake when physically active, you will be fine!
In essence – there is no rock solid reliable approach to getting rid of nocturnal cramps as it is not fully understood yet exactly what may be causing them. So, the best approach would be somewhat trail and error. Making changes based on what could potentially work and seeing how the body responds.
If cramping has been experienced then stretching and sports massage therapy can be very effective in reducing the muscular soreness experienced. I treat many people at my Nottingham sports massage clinic who have experienced bad cramps and the combination of soft tissue massage, advanced stretching techniques and dry needling can be very effective.
Thanks for reading,
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/372582?redirect=true http://cochranelibrary-wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD009402/full https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21846281 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1836955312700681