Leg cramps at night: what helps?

One has just slept relaxed and calm, then suddenly cramps develop in the muscles and cause great pain. The legs are often affected – especially the calves. And Often these calf cramps occur at night and so wake us up. There can be many reasons for this, but relatively often there is a lack of magnesium behind nighttime leg cramps. Women tend to be affected more often, but the risk increases with age.

How do leg cramps generally occur?

In general, certain muscles contract during a spasm. If the so-called large calf muscles are affected, they harden due to calf cramps – and usually remain hard for a few days. The so-called toe flexor, which begins at the back of the lower leg, is also often affected. For night calf cramps, you can even develop a tendency to cramp. This means that the affected muscles always contract in the same place.

Why a lack of magnesium causes leg cramps

Magnesium has various functions in the body. Among other things, it acts as an opponent of calcium: While calcium is responsible for tensing the muscles, magnesium is supposed to relax them afterwards. If the body lacks magnesium, the calcium ensures that the nerves begin to contract muscles involuntarily – and the cramp begins. This is why frequent calf cramps are a typical first sign of a magnesium deficiency and a generally unbalanced electrolyte balance.

And why do these calf cramps occur at night?

A body's own mechanism also plays a role here: The body's magnesium level naturally drops during periods of rest. However, it can also fall too low, which can trigger muscle contractions during an unconscious movement during sleep. We usually only wake up when the muscle has hardened and there is severe pain.

And how does a magnesium deficiency arise?

Usually there are three possible triggers for a magnesium deficiency:

  • An increased need that arises, for example, from pregnancy. The need for magnesium is particularly high in the last trimester of pregnancy. But athletes also have a higher need because the muscles use up the magnesium in the body faster during training.
  • An increased excretion of magnesium, which can also affect athletes. Because during training, minerals are excreted through sweating. Various medications can also accelerate the excretion of minerals.
  • Inhibited absorption of magnesium by the body, for example as a result of illnesses.

Nocturnal calf cramps: An overview of other causes

For calf cramps (but also general muscle cramps) it can In addition to the lack of nutrients, there are also other causes. These include:

  • Muscle overload in athletes: If you train a lot and don't give your muscles rest in between, you have an increased risk of leg cramps at night.
  • Underloading the muscles in non-athletes: Those who don't train at all also suffer from calf cramps. It also plays a role that muscles tend to shorten when inactive.
  • Bad posture: With poor posture, the same muscles are always under tension, which can lead to muscle cramps.
  • Wrong footwear: If the feet and legs are stressed on one side by the wrong footwear, this can promote calf cramps. This applies, for example, to shoes with high heels.
  • Unbalanced diet: The body only gets all the nutrients if we eat a balanced diet.
  • Lack of fluids: If we drink too little, it can have serious health consequences. Nocturnal calf cramps are just one of them.

Treatment: first aid against leg cramps

Calf cramps are often mugging, However, most people instinctively use the right remedy by stretching their calf muscles. The leg is stretched out, the heel is pushed forward and the toes are pulled towards the body. You can also use your hands to help. In most cases this is enough to resolve the cramp after a short time. It can also help to massage the affected muscle lightly, shake or stand up a little, and walk around gently.

Prevent nocturnal calf cramps at night

If the cramps only happen every now and then, it doesn't have to mean anything bad. However, if calf cramps occur regularly at night, the possible causes should be clarified with a doctor. If a disease is the cause, it must first be treated. Otherwise, it often helps to adjust your lifestyle a little. The following measures can help:

  • Eat a balanced diet: For a balanced diet, we should rely on lots of fruits and vegetables. Dairy products and lots of fish are also part of the menu, as is some lean meat. For example, we can get important fiber from whole grains.
  • Drink a lot: So that we are optimally supplied with liquid, we should drink at least 2.5 liters a day. Above all water, but also herbal tea is allowed.
  • Surrender of luxury goods: We should avoid smoking and alcohol as completely as possible. This is fundamentally better for your health, but alcohol can also promote leg cramps because it has a dehydrating effect.
  • Move: If you hardly move in everyday life, you should definitely make some time for short training sessions. Those who exercise 30 minutes three times a week are doing a lot for their health. For enthusiastic athletes, however, the following applies: The muscles also need breaks between the individual workouts from time to time. In the worst case, exaggerating can be just as harmful as not training at all.
  • Loosen muscles: Apart from classic training, it is important not to go to sleep with your muscles tense. Short loosening and stretching exercises before going to bed can help. But we shouldn't make you sweat, it just pushes the body and prevents fatigue.

Reading tips: You can find out everything about leg cramps and muscle cramps in general here. We also share our best sleep tips.

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