Thursday, August 25, 2011

Nighttime Nuisance

        Recently, I saw a stunningly gorgeous lady, in sexy lingerie.  She was at the stairs of our house, signaling me to go up.  Curiously, I followed her, up to our 3rd floor. Then, this Angel Locsin look-alike continued going up to our 4th floor. There was a problem, though.  Our house didn’t have a 4th floor. But I followed her anyway. When I got there, boy, I was mesmerized with what I saw. Sexy, beautiful ladies I don’t know walking around, talking in some language I thought spoken only in the second Moon of planet Mars. Then, this beautiful lady I saw earlier moved towards me, about to hug me when…………………………...... I woke up!  Arrrggg! I woke up!   

       Darn. It dawned on me that I was only dreaming.   I was awakened because my wife woke me up because she felt severe muscle cramps in her leg.

       “Aww. Come on, Mama. Your leg cramp is such a kill joy. What I was witnessing was better than any erotic movie, I thought”.  Hehe. Well, after I massaged and stretched her affected leg, the cramps went away and she went back to deep slumber as if nothing happened. Unfortunately, I never got to finish the dream I was having =(. 

       Have you ever experienced the same thing?  No, not the same dream, but being awakened by severe leg cramps?

So, that brings us to the orthopedic topic of this post. Leg cramps.  

What is leg cramps?

      A leg cramp means a sudden, severe pain usually at the back muscle of the leg we call calf muscles. It is caused by a sudden involuntary contraction of these muscles.   

        It may occur when you are sleeping just like what happened to my wife. If not given the necessary attention, it can become a distressing problem which can disturb our regular sleep. 

What causes nighttime leg cramps?

      During cramps, your muscle contracts and doesn’t relax.  It may occur more often on people who don’t stretch enough or improperly stretch.  The following are risk factors for leg cramps:

1.      Prolonged flexion of foot - The nighttime leg cramps can be caused by prolonged and unopposed foot flexion while in bed. In the regular sleep position, the muscles of the feet and back of the legs are shortened because the foot is pointing slightly away from you. In addition, if you point your foot like a ballerina when you stretch, contraction of an already shortened leg muscle may occur and further cause the muscle to go into spasm.

2.      Electrolye imbalance - You can have nighttime leg cramps with heavy sweating from prolonged exertion. Muscle cramps happen more frequently during hot weather because we lose fluids when we’re hot and sweaty. We also lose electrolytes—especially potassium and magnesium.  These nutrients are needed to prevent muscle spasms.

3.      Certain Medications – Consumption of diuretic drugs, calcium channel blockers, can also cause nocturnal leg cramps. 

4.    Certain medical conditions – This includes later stages of pregnancy, untreated hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, those undergoing hemodialysis, and excess alcohol intake.

However, these are just the probable causes, and a definite cause of leg cramps while sleeping at night still has to be verified.

What to do

        I wish I could tell people that all you had to do is this and that and miraculously your cramps will be a thing of the past. Problem is, no one even knows for sure what causes cramps.  But here are some accepted ways to prevent leg cramps.

1. Stretching exercises- 

      Making  regular stretching  a habit is a good start for preventing leg cramps.  Focus on exercising the calf muscle while doing the stretching exercises. Stretch your calf muscles by pointing your foot towards you. You may try to do some routine stretching before bedtime. Try this out for a week or so, you would most probably see the difference.

2. Appropriate sleeping posture-

      Well, of course, if you’re sleeping you won’t be aware of your posture. But a change in your sleep posture can prevent leg cramps. Try keeping a pillow under your calf before you sleep, if you are lying on your back. Letting the feet hangover the edge of the bed is another way to relax that muscle and avoid leg cramps at night while sleeping.

3. Get properly hydrated

         As mentioned, loss of fluids and essential nutrients could be a cause of cramps. So make sure you drink lots of water and juices.  Avoid dehydration!

Daily activities that might help prevent night leg cramps include:
  • Maintain  correct posture of your feet. Remember my discussion about high heels?  If not, browse through the previous posts and learn again.
  • If you have no plans of being a ballerina, avoid the temptation of pointing your toe! (Unless you use your toes to signal directions to people). 

4. Gently and carefully massage your calf muscles every now and then

    5. Take a warm water bath before going to bed – 

              I know that for some of you, you don’t like taking a bath. It’s like water torture.  And for some hardline environmentalists, they want to conserve water so bathing is absolutely unnecessary for them.     Kidding aside, taking a warm water bath may relax your cramped and tired muscles. If you’re too lazy or sleepy to take a bath at night, then you may just use a warm pack and apply it around your affected muscles.

             Leg cramps can really be a painful nuisance, especially for nighttime leg cramps. Theories of its cause include improper position of feet, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, certain medical conditions and medicines. Make sure you do calf stretching exercises, maintain proper position of your feet, and be properly hydrated. Gently massaging your calf muscles and applying warm compress may help in relaxing the cramped muscle. 

              If you have a muscle cramp that lasts for more than a couple of days, see your orthopedic surgeon. You may have a muscle tear, blood clots, nerve damage, or some other more serious problem that will prevent you from having and finishing the same dream that I had. =)

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