Most people have woken from a night's slumber at one time or another from the excruciating pain of a leg cramp. Leg cramps have a variety of causes. They can result from overuse during strenuous or prolonged exercise, dehydration, nerve compression, or too few minerals like potassium, calcium, or magnesium.
Some people are more at risk for leg cramps than others. As people age, they lose muscle mass, making their calves and other muscles more susceptible to overuse and consequent cramping. Women who are pregnant, as well as people who have diabetes, nerve, liver, or thyroid disorders suffer from leg cramps more often than those without these health concerns. If you suffer from leg cramps, there are life hacks you can adopt to prevent leg cramps, as well as home remedies to target the pain and relax the muscle when a cramp occurs.
1. Irish Spring
It may be hard to believe, but sleeping with an unwrapped bar of Irish Spring soap between the sheets can have miraculous effects for people who regularly suffer from nighttime leg cramps. This old wive's tale really works. The remedy was featured on the Dr. Oz Show and though the reason behind the treatment is unknown, Dr. Oz suspects the smell of lavender can be effective in relaxing tense muscles.
Placing an electric heating pad or applying a hot washcloth to the cramped muscle can help increase blood flow, which will in turn relax the muscle. It may also be helpful to take a long, warm shower or to relax in a hot bath treated with magnesium-rich Epsom salts.
When a leg cramp strikes in your calf, stand in front of a wall. Place all your weight on your cramped leg and bend your knee to stretch the muscle. If it is too painful to stand, sit on the floor or in a chair with your cramped leg extended and with a straight leg, try to pull the top of your foot toward your head. The sitting stretch is also effective for releasing hamstring cramps.
4. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar contains calcium and potassium, two minerals known to help relieve muscle cramps. Naturopaths recommend drinking apple cider diluted with warm water and an added teaspoon of honey to prevent nighttime leg cramps. You can also make a warm vinegar compress by soaking a warm cloth in strong vinegar and wrapping the homemade compress around the affected muscle for twenty minutes.
5. Self massage
In the height of a muscle cramp, your best option may be to manually manipulate the muscle. To do this, find the center of the cramp and using your thumb or the heel of your hand, press into the tightened muscle. Hold the pressure for ten seconds, release, and then push again. The self massage may be slightly painful, but should not be intolerable. Repeat the massage and soon you should feel the muscle release and relax.
To prevent leg cramps, take short walks regularly throughout the day. Keeping your legs moving can increase blood flow and alleviate leg pain and cramps associated with diabetes and other conditions.
7. Tonic water
A study by the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada determined that quinine, which is found in tonic water, is effective in reducing the frequency of nocturnal leg cramps. This works because quinine decreases the chances of a muscle contracting.
Potassium is a mineral that plays an important role in controlling muscle contraction. If you have chronic leg cramps, it is possible you have a potassium deficiency. Fix this by eating more potassium-rich foods like bananas, tomato paste, orange juice, white beans, dates, raisins, and papaya.
Leg cramps are painful and common. If you or a loved one suffers from chronic leg cramps, whether it is due to diabetes or another condition, overuse from exercise, or some other unknown reason, remember there are several methods to help relieve the pain and prevent cramps from occurring in the first place.
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