(Science-Based Medicine) — If you’ve ever experienced the pain of a charley horse, then you’ll have an idea of what about half of all adults over the age of 60 experience – nocturnal leg cramps. A nocturnal leg cramp can occur in the leg or foot, and is a painful and sudden tightening of a muscle that can last from seconds to minutes, and can recur in the night. Not surprisingly, nocturnal leg cramps can interrupt and impair sleep and while these cramps don’t cause permanent injury, they can lead to decreased quality of life from the pain and sleep impairment.
Despite the frequency with which these leg cramps occur, very little is known about what causes them and what anyone can do to prevent them. Consequently, there are an enormous number of medicinal, folk, and alternative remedies that are used and endorsed by both health professionals and patients alike. And a recent survey has shown that most people are treating leg cramps with remedies that are useless, dangerous, or useless and dangerous. What’s the best approach when there’s no decent evidence?
The causes of nocturnal leg cramps are not well understood. The cramp itself is due to the repetitive firing of motor units in the muscle but what triggers the contraction is not known. While often attributed to electrolyte imbalances or dehydration, there seems to be no relationship between the two. Many drugs are associated with reports of leg cramps (even drugs used to prevent leg cramps), but there’s very little evidence to show that any actually cause them.