You point your toes and stretch your legs out during sleep then wake up screaming in pain. What causes those awful nighttime muscle cramps?
Muscle cramps can occur for a variety of reasons. There are spasms that occur when you are new to exercise, and those that show up when you overdo it.
Muscle cramps that happen at 3 a.m. can be the result of a pinched nerve. For example, when you lie on one side for a long period of time, you cut off circulation. Changing positions brings back circulation and causes the muscles to relax, resulting in the most common cause of muscle cramps, an exaggeration of the normal stretching reflex.
As you turn in your sleep, you contract muscles that stretch tendons. Sometimes, the contracted muscle will not let go, developing into a painful spasm. To help minimize the occurrence of nighttime cramps, stretch out and warm up the leg muscles before you retire.
If your muscle cramps occur when you exercise, your problem may be one of deficient or imbalanced mineral intake. Abnormal amounts of minerals can prevent the muscle from relaxing once it has tightened. Low thyroid can also cause muscle cramps. In any case, a blood test can help in determining the reason for these types of muscle spasms.
Often, at the beginning of a jog, a muscle in one leg will contract. If you have small arteries in that leg, the supply of blood when you run may not be adequate for proper distribution of oxygen to the muscle tissue. Walk a little during your run and certainly for short periods toward the end of your run.
For those of you who run for long periods of time and end up with muscle cramps, look at dehydration as the most common cause. When you lose fluid, there is less blood supply and less oxygen to the muscles. Recommended amounts of water are one cup before exercise and one cup every 15 minutes during exercise.
To sum it up, your muscles need adequate supplies of fat and sugar for energy, they need oxygen to help in the distribution of energy, and they also need the proper amount and concentrations of water and minerals to the muscle cells.
What to do when you suffer a muscle cramp? Stretch the cramped muscle with one hand and squeeze the affected area with the other. For nighttime pains, pull your toes toward you and rub the calf muscle, squeezing gently every few seconds. Drink more water than you normally do before bedtime. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you to avoid that nighttime muscle pain.
n Jerry Vance owns The Sweat Shop/Wet Sweat. She offers classes through Carson City Recreation and Aquatics Center and is a fitness instructor for the Senior Center.