The painful nocturnal calf cramps: why does it happen and how can it be prevented?

Muscle cramps are sudden, involuntary spasms in one or more muscles of the body that usually appear during or after physical exercise and at night, when the body is completely relaxed. During nighttime hours, involuntary calf muscles contractions are the most frequent and feared by most people, with a duration that usually varies from a few seconds to various minutes or, in more severe cases, even hours and days, causing moderate to severe pain. Why is this happening and how can it be prevented?

At TodoMountainBike: The painful nocturnal calf cramps: why does it happen and how can it be prevented?
Nighttime calf cramps, a more common problem than desirable.

The nocturnal calf cramps

Muscle cramps are very common among athletes, regardless of their level of training, although they also occur in people who are sedentary or have a low level of physical activity. The muscle groups most likely to suffer these problems are the calf muscles and the front and back of the thigh (quadriceps and hamstrings), much less frequently also in feet, hands, arms, abdomen and rib cage. The calf cramp, the most frequent when people sleep, presents as a sudden and uncontrolled hardening or contraction of the muscle accompanied by intense pain that finishes with the happy sleep of the person who suffers it.

Whenever it is not a neurological disease, such as a spinal cord injury or a pinched nerve in the neck or back, the most common causes of cramps are dehydration, lack of minerals in the diet, non-replacement of minerals during exercise, or muscle overload. Any of these causes, by themselves or combined, can result in neuromuscular malfunction, triggering painful calf cramps that are so likely to appear in the middle of the night.

Is it possible to prevent nocturnal muscle cramps? With proper hydration during exercise, where you have to replace the minerals lost through sweating with the help of an isotonic drink, and throughout the day, trying to drink at least two liters of water and avoiding alcohol consumption. Eating foods rich in potassium (see fruits such as bananas, cherimoya or avocado and vegetables such as chard, spinach or brussels sprouts) also helps prevent the onset of cramps, as well as avoiding training at high intensity when night cramps appear with some frequency.

Despite these preventative measures, it may be the case that the feared calf cramp appears at any unexpected hour of the night. To relieve it as quickly as possible, it is best to sit on the edge of the bed and, with legs stretched forward, hold the fingers of the affected leg to attract them to the upper body. Another very effective method is to stand up and, with hands resting on the wall, move the affected leg backwards to stretch the calf. As a final note, too tight sheets and blankets can also cause a reduction in blood circulation in the legs, causing cramps.