Everyone knows the feeling. You're sleeping peacefully, maybe in the middle of an awesome dream, and then ... BAM! You're awake, thanks to an incredibly painful "charley horse." They come on suddenly and seem to take forever to go away. Often, no amount of stretching or massaging can give you any relief, either.
Hopefully, this isn't a common occurrence for you, but even once-in-awhile muscle spasms can cause discomfort that you'd much rather avoid. Getting a good night's sleep every night is important to your overall health and wellbeing. While you might be able to sneak in a nap the next day to make up for time lost due to an unexpected charley horse, that's not a sustainable daily schedule for most of us. So, how do you put a stop to these pesky cramps in their entirety?
First, it's good to know what leg cramps are exactly.
Cramps are caused by muscles spasms, which are involuntary contractions of the muscle in question. This causes the muscles to become hard and cause extreme amounts of pain. Although cramps can happen to any part of the body where muscles are found, leg cramps seem to be some of the most common.
Now, why do they happen?
That's actually a much trickier question to answer than what legs cramps are. No one knows exactly why these painful muscle spasms occur, but there are many guesses.
Dehydration is commonly blamed for cramps.
With the summer weather starting to kick into high gear in many locales, dehydration is a real concern. Even if you haven't been standing out in the hot sun, it's important to drink eight cups of water a day. Dehydration can cause dizziness or lightheadedness at the least and fever and low blood pressure in more serious cases.
Exercise can be to blame, as well.
We all know that exercise is supposed to keep up fit, healthy, and feeling well. So, how can it be the cause of charley horses? Exercising in the heat, failing to stretch beforehand, and overdoing it can all cause muscle spasms.
If you're suffering from frequent cramps, it might be because of your vitamin intake ... or lack thereof.
Increased cramps have been linked to deficiencies of magnesium or potassium. Also, it can be the sign of a calcium deficiency if you're a pregnant woman.
Staying on your feet all day will wear you out, too.
People who do work that keeps them up and about all day, like teachers or waiters, might get cramps more often than the average person. Using your leg muscles all day can result in muscle fatigue, which is linked to cramping.
Like to sleep in a cold room? The temperature might be to blame for your cramps.
A nice, cool room might help you get to sleep, but the cramps it can cause will definitely wake you up. Cold temperatures can sometimes cause muscles to stiffen and cramp, so make sure your legs are covered up and warm, especially if the night is expected to be chilly.
So, now you know the possible reasons behind painful charley horses, but what can you do about them? This first solution might surprise you.
There might not be any evidence to back it up, but many folks swear by placing a plain bar of soap between the mattress and the fitted sheet. Many cry "placebo effect," but it seems to work for others. No one knows why it works, or even if it does, but it's certainly a cheap and easy solution to painful cramps. Why not give it a try?
If that doesn't work, turn on the hot water and hop in the shower.
Muscles just work better when they're warm. That's why they call it a "warm up" before working out, why some swear by practicing yoga in a heated room, and why a hot shower can help relieve muscle aches and pains. A hot shower definitely gets that helpful steam flowing, but if you've got sore legs that make standing an issue, a hot bath will do just as well.
Hot water not doing it? Add some Epsom salt.
Epsom salt is actually a mineral compound called magnesium sulfate. It's used as a drying agent, in bath salts, as a beauty product, to improve agricultural crops, and more. The WHO even has it on its "Model List of Essential Medicines," which means it's needed in any basic health system. As mentioned earlier, a magnesium deficiency can result in cramps, and Epsom salts can help there; it has also been used for generations as an aid in soothing sore muscles.
If you're still suffering from frequent cramps after all that, you just might want to turn to pickle juice.
Yes, pickle juice doesn't have the best reputation as a drink, but it might be worth it for a cramp-free night of sleep. That liquid that makes pickles so good is brimming with salt. And what do we lose when we sweat? Salt! Adding a bit more salt to our bodies after we sweat it out can help replenish things we need to function smoothly.
And, if all else fails, eat a banana!
Bananas are really high in potassium - one lone banana contains more than 400mg of the mineral! Potassium helps regulate fluid levels, keeps the nervous system functioning, and also aids in muscle function. See why they might keep the cramps away? Even if you don't like bananas, you can still kick up your potassium intake; potatoes, sun dried tomatoes, kidney beans, and avocado are just a few of the foods that are high in potassium.
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