Muscle cramps hit like a bolt of lightning. They come on fast and strong and there’s often no warning signs. For many people, cramps in the legs and especially the calf muscle happens at night just as they are falling asleep. These cramps last anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes and can be extremely painful.
If you suffer from this condition, you probably wonder why you get calf muscle cramps at night, how you can get rid of them or even prevent them in the first place.
What is a calf muscle cramp?
First, let’s gain an understanding of what muscle cramps exactly are. They are a strong, painful contraction or tightening of a muscle. A spasm is another good way to describe it.
Why do calf muscle cramps happen?
The exact cause of a muscle cramp in the calf, thigh or foot is unknown and probably varies from case to case. But here are some of the most common root reasons a cramp might come on:
- Overuse of muscles or muscle fatigue
- An aggravated injury
- Lack of minerals in the body such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. Cramps might happen more often in the later stages of pregnancy because of this.
- Restricted blood flow
- Low body temperature or a “chill in the bones”
- Wear and tear on the body from sitting, standing or remaining stationary for long periods of time
- Side effects of medication
How to stop calf muscle cramps at night?
Once a cramp takes hold in the calf muscle the pain can be intense. Here’s what to do:
- Remain calm
- Take deep inhales and long, slow exhales
- Massage the affected area
- Apply heat in the form of a warm compress or take a warm bath or shower
- Drink plenty of water
- Try to relax—remind yourself that they will pass
How to prevent calf muscles cramps from happening?
If you’ve found an increase in how often muscle cramps are happening in your legs, feet and calf muscles at night, practice these things during the day. Prevention is always best!
- Get up regularly (if you’re sitting at a desk) and walk around
- Stretch your legs at regular intervals throughout the day. Make sure you are stretching your calf muscles several times each day
- Stay hydrated throughout the day — this means reducing dehydrating substances like alcohol and coffee
- Eat fruit like bananas and vegetables that have a high mineral content. Dark green veggies like spinach, kale and broccoli are a great place to start
- Increase the amount of exercise you get. Do this a little bit at a time so that it is sustainable and that it naturally becomes a part of your life
- If you are on medication, speak with your doctor about the side effects.
It’s important to pay attention to muscle cramps in the calf, thigh or foot as it may be a sign of a deeper issue related to restricted blood flow or medication that’s damaging your organs. Or they may be a sign that you simply need small adjustments to your diet, exercise and stretching routines. Muscle cramps can keep you awake at night, disrupting your sleep cycle and setting off a domino effect that can hurt your overall health, so it’s best to do what you can to prevent them.