How to Fix Nighttime Leg Cramping and Pain
The scenario is all too familiar: You lie down for a night’s sleep and the pain comes. Your knee starts to hurt and the leg cramps come on strong. You feel OK during the day, but the pain keeps you awake at night. For those who work out often, the cause of nighttime leg cramping and knee pain hinges on hydration.
“The most common reason for leg cramps and knee pain that occur, especially at night, is because the athlete is dehydrated,” says Jason Piken, DC. “Hydration does not simply mean water but also electrolytes.”
Often the culprits involve not replenishing sodium and magnesium. Another factor leading to nighttime pain is a decrease in blood flow: “Cramps and pain often come at night because we are now resting,” says Lisa Alemi, a physical therapist. “Our body is quiet.” Also, a hydrochloric acid shortage can cause your body to improperly digest food and discourage calcium absorption. A side effect of this is night cramps, says Eugene Charles, DC, director of The Applied Kinesiology Center of New York.
Finally joint inflammation from muscle overuse can make the knee become achy. “When athletes overexert themselves in the day with heavy training and do not allow time and space for recovery, inflammation can build up,” says Jessica Tranchina, a certified physical therapist and co-founder of Generator Athlete Lab. At night, the muscles around the knee begin to relax and without these muscles to support it, the “knee joint space narrows, causing compression on cartilage tissue and other joint structures.”
You can help relieve the cramping and knee irritation through quick fixes and by staying proactive with your hydration intake. Start with a few of the following expert recommendations:
- Bring your knees to your chest and hold for 30 seconds. This “will greatly help with the cramps that come from this nerve entrapment,” says Charles.
- Take ice baths after workouts. This activity “helps decrease inflammation throughout your body,” says Tranchina. At night, she recommends taking a warm bath to help relax muscles.
- Hydrate. Tranchina endorses drinking at least half your body weight in ounces and drink an additional 1–2 liters, depending on how active you were that day.
- Salt your water. Lobert recommends adding 1/8 teaspoon per eight ounces of water. But don’t worry, “this won’t make your water taste salty or cause you to feel puffy,” she says. “This will allow your body to retain and utilize the water.” This will also help you if you’re someone who constantly runs to the bathroom. This is a sign you are actually dehydrated, “as the water is going right through you,” she says.
- Foam roll and stretch. “Thorough and regular stretching and foam rolling can help with your symptoms as you get stronger,” says Lobert.
About the Author
Jennifer is a Southern California-based freelance writer who covers topics such as health, fitness, lifestyle and travel for both national and regional publications. She runs marathons across the world and is an Ironman finisher. She is also a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. You can follow her on Twitter @jenpurdie.
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