All of us, at one time or another, have experienced a charlie horse. The sudden and painful cramp in the calf or thigh can be anything but pleasant. What causes it? And how can you treat it?
There are two types of muscle cramps: gravitational (caused by position) and exercise-related. In either case, the muscle contracts suddenly and involuntarily. When a person moves into an awkward position for a long period of time, the muscle becomes fatigued and susceptible to cramping. This is why we tend to get charlie horses when we sit on an airplane for hours or drive in a car for too long without stretching our legs. The second type occurs during physical activity such as running or cycling when the body is exerting itself at maximum capacity.
A good way to prevent these painful spasms is to stay hydrated, maintain good posture and stretch regularly before and after exercising. If you do experience a charlie horse while exercising, stop what you’re doing immediately and rest until the pain subsides; don’t try to push through it because this could worsen your condition.
To relieve nighttime leg cramps:
- Stretch before bedtime. Stretching before bed can prevent many types of muscle spasms, including night-time leg cramps.
- Exercise regularly during the day. Regular exercise promotes circulation, which helps prevent muscle spasms when you sleep.
- Drink plenty of water during the day (but not right before bed). Water helps flush toxins from your body and helps keep muscles strong and healthy.
- Eat foods rich in potassium such as bananas, potatoes or orange juice (but not too much salt). Potassium helps regulate muscle contractions by working with sodium to create electrical charges that cause muscle contractions; therefore it is recommended that individuals who experience frequent nighttime leg cramps increase their intake of potassium-rich foods.