August 26, 2014

Leg Cramps and Possible Prevention

In order to keep the title readable, I left out muscle spasms, charley horse, and calf cramps. All may be related and are often caused by similar problems. All can be painful, wake us up during sleep, and prevent us from getting a good night's sleep. Some of us even have them during the day.

Many of us with diabetes can suffer from the pain, and not knowing the cause can be as painful when we don't know how to prevent this.

First, I want to discuss some of the probable causes.
#1. Dehydration Some people are not aware that they are dehydrated, while others when asked can admit that they could have been. If there is a chance that this is the cause, I suggest increasing fluid intake (water) during the day, unless you have a medical restriction.

#2. Potassium deficiency Are you taking a diuretic for hypertension, many people with diabetes are taking at least one. Doctors hesitate to do the necessary tests to determine deficiencies of potassium. Magnesium, calcium, and vitamin B12 and a few other minerals need to be tested.

#3. Neuropathy If the person has neuropathy, there may be hyperactivity of the nerve/muscle causing the cramps. Malfunctioning nerves, which could be caused by a problem such as a spinal cord injury or pinched nerve in the neck or back? For neuropathy, vitamin B12 is often the culprit.

#4. Overuse Have you been exercising more than usual? Muscles that are overused can cramp. This is often the least cause and generally will disappear after a few days. Be careful of exercising in the heat and not stretching correctly before exercising.

#5. Exposure to cold temperatures or cold water Take a warm shower or bath before bed to relax the muscles and make sure your body is warm before going to bed.

#6. Other medical conditions Blood flow problems in the legs (peripheral arterial disease), kidney disease, thyroid disease, and multiple sclerosis can cause cramps..

#7. Sitting for a long time This is something many people miss, as well as standing on a hard surface for a long time, or putting your legs in awkward positions while you sleep.

#8. Taking certain medicines Medicines, such as antipsychotics, birth control pills, diuretics, statins, and steroids are common causes of leg and muscle cramps and can be side effects of the medications. For a more comprehensive list, read this article in WebMD.

#9. Poor blood circulation in the legs This should be checked by your doctor as this can become serious and lead to other problems.

What if muscle cramps keep coming back?
Have a serious talk with your doctor if the muscle cramps keep coming back are severe enough to consistently interrupt you sleep. These may be symptoms of another problem, such as restless legs syndrome. If cramps keep coming back, bother you a lot, or interfere with your sleep, your doctor may prescribe medicine that relaxes your muscles. If any of the above conditions exist and the doctor will not test for the deficiencies in number 2 above, it may be necessary to consider a new doctor.

Other help for muscle cramps include calf muscle stretches done routinely before going to bed. This is a pretty low-risk intervention and should be worth a try. You may read about this in this blog.

How can you prevent muscle cramps?
These tips may help prevent muscle cramps:
  1. Drink plenty of water and other fluids, enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water.
  2. Limit or avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine. These can make you dehydrated, which means your body has lost too much fluid.
  3. Make sure you are eating healthy foods that are rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B12.
  4. Ride a bike or stationary bike to condition and stretch your muscles.
  5. Stretch your muscles every day, especially before and after exercise and at bedtime.
  6. Don't suddenly increase the amount of exercise you get. Increase your exercise a little each week.
  7. Take a daily multivitamin supplement.
  8. Use a heating pad on the affected muscle.

If you are taking medicines that are known to cause leg cramps, your doctor may prescribe different medicines or change to dose to provide relief.

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