If there's one health problem that people complain of often, it's leg cramps. Whether you get them in the middle of the night, every single morning, or at random times of day, they can be annoying — and painful — as hell. But the reason why you wake up with leg cramps may interest you, simply because medical experts really aren't sure.
According to the NHS, leg cramps occur when a muscle spams. This means that it quickly shortens and tightens, often resulting in pain. The most common places to experience leg cramps are in the calf, below the knee, or somewhere at the back of the leg. A minority may also get them in their thighs or feet.
Figuring out why this happens is something that researchers have been studying for years. Special attention has been paid to nocturnal leg cramps. You know, the ones that wake you up at night or that you wake up with in the morning.
As the American Academy of Family Physicians reports, 50 to 60 percent of adults report experiencing these kinds of cramps. Marginally more women are believed to have them. Another interesting finding is that leg cramps seem to be more common in the summer. A 2015 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that prescriptions for quinine (a cramp treatment) and online searches relating to leg cramps were at their highest in the middle of summer. Conversely, both almost halved in winter.
Taking the effects of heat into account may explain why dehydration is listed as a potential cause of leg cramps on the NHS website. But "the most common form of nocturnal leg cramps are considered idiopathic, meaning that there is no known cause," neurologist Dr. Michael Jaffee told Men's Health.
So other than a lack of fluids, what else is thought to cause muscle cramping? Muscle fatigue may be a big one. A 2004 British Journal of Sports Medicine study is just one piece of research to have suggested a link between leg cramps and high intensity exercise. A lot of people have probably experienced that tender feeling after overdoing it in the gym, so that makes perfect sense.
But again, this is just a theory. No one knows for sure. Other leg cramp causes are said to range from oral birth control and pregnancy to diarrhoea and even the way you sleep, reports Medical News Today. When it comes to sleeping, it's advised to not doze off with your foot stretched out, instead supporting it with a pillow to prevent toes from pointing downwards.
You can also try doing some mild calf-stretching exercise — and I mean mild — just before you go to bed to counteract the effect of being in the same position all day. If stretching or massaging your muscles is proving to be of little relief, you can visit your GP, notes the NHS.
They may be able to give you more effective exercise techniques to try out or, if things are really bad, prescribe you medication. As for providing you with the cause of your cramps? Well, they can try...