There are few worse ways to be woken up in the middle of the night than with a sudden muscle spasm! Muscle spasms, commonly referred to as “charley horses”, happen when a muscle contracts involuntarily and won’t relax. If you’ve ever been woken up by one, you can feel my pain, literally! Fortunately, there are some simple things we can do to ease the pain of a charley horse when it occurs, plus some easy steps to reduce the frequency or likelihood of experiencing them in the future.
How To Ease Leg Cramps (or Charley Horses)
If you are experiencing a muscle spasm, the first thing to remember is don’t panic! Try to relax as much as possible. Muscle spasms may be quite painful, but they don’t cause any lasting harm to your body. If you can, try gently stretching the muscle out, and massage it lightly with your thumbs. Applying ice or heat to the muscle can help relax it as well, so if you can, try cold compresses or taking a warm bath.
Essential oils can also be effective in relaxing muscles, so it’s a good idea to keep a roller bottle or jar of salve by your bedside for those middle-of-the-night cramps. Lavender and Peppermint essential oils are great choices for sore muscles.
Muscle spasms can occur due to physical causes such as overuse or injury. If you exercise regularly, make sure that you’re not overexerting your muscles. Listen to your body, and know when to take a break. And most importantly, STAY HYDRATED. Staying adequately hydrated will help reduce or eliminate muscle cramping for most people. So remember to drink at least 8 glasses a day!
Muscle spasms can also have nutritional causes, the most likely of which is an imbalance of electrolytes in your body. According to Jennifer North, our Dietitian & Nutrition Advisor, having too little potassium, calcium, or magnesium in your diet can contribute to muscle spasms. “A balanced diet generally contributes adequate amounts of these electrolytes,” she says, “but if leg cramping is an issue, focus on food sources of magnesium, potassium, and calcium.”
Good sources of magnesium include whole grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes. Potassium can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables, especially avocados, bananas, and tomatoes. Calcium sources include dairy products, and some seafood such as salmon, clams, and oysters. “Having adequate vitamin D status will also help absorb these minerals,” says North, “so make sure you’re getting enough of this vitamin. Eggs, fatty fish, and shiitake mushrooms are all good sources.”
Finally, if you’ve heard the old wives’ tale about putting a bar of soap under your bottom bed sheet, below the affected leg, to fend off charley horses, I’m afraid there’s no science to back it up. But hey, some people swear by it, and it can’t hurt to try! At least your bed will smell nice! :-)