Natural Pain Relief for Leg Cramps

February 3, 2017
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

You know that getting the proper amount of sleep is essential for your health. Without it, your body can’t recover from the day, your muscles can’t build, your brain can’t clean out the detritus that is brought about by electrical activity, and your organs never get a chance to rest, clean, and reset. That’s why it’s so important for you to create all the right conditions for sleep—like only using your bed for rest, employing blackout curtains, and avoiding screens before sleep. But for some people, that isn’t enough. Because pain, often caused by leg cramps, keeps you up at night. This is a serious problem—much more so than is usually acknowledged. But, luckily, there are a few simple steps you can take to eliminate those leg cramps, and give your body the rest it so badly needs.

Odds Are Good You’ve Had Nighttime Cramps

Believe it or not, up to 60% of adults suffer from leg cramps at night.

In some cases, those cramps can be severe, even temporarily debilitating. But even a “simple” charley horse results in an average of nine minutes of pain, followed by hours of recurrence. And nothing wakes your body up—and keeps it up—quite like pain.

That’s what makes this such a vital issue. While leg cramps often are a symptom of underlying problems, in many cases, the worst effect is actually the loss of sleep.

That’s not to downplay the causes of your cramps. They can be a sign of truly deadly problem, like liver cirrhosis or vascular disease.

But the vast majority of cramps have to do with muscle fatigue or nutritional imbalances. And we can knock those problems right out.

Magnesium—Your Body’s Essential Ingredient

Did you know that magnesium is involved in over 400 different chemical reactions in your body? And that it’s involved in every step of your body’s energy production processes?

When a patient comes to me complaining of leg cramps at night, I’d estimate that 80% are cured by simply taking magnesium. Without magnesium, your muscles simply can’t function properly.

And with magnesium, not only do you provide your muscles (and your entire body) with the nutrition you need, but it acts as a muscle relaxant as well, going to work almost instantly.

Simply put, everyone should be making sure they’re getting enough magnesium. Around 68% of Americans don’t get enough—and that not only contributes to leg cramps and other muscle problems, but also heart attacks and strokes.

If you aren’t getting enough magnesium—and you probably aren’t—there’s a quick, easy fix.

Next time you take a bath, add one to two cups of Epsom salt. Epsom salt—despite the name—isn’t like regular salt at all. It’s made up of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen. Bathe with Epsom salt, and you get your necessary dose of magnesium every day.

You only need about 20 minutes in the tub. What’s more, your body more readily takes magnesium through your skin than through your digestive tract.

I also recommend you add some baking soda to your mix (about a cup). Baking soda alkalizes your body. That’s important, because most of us are too acidic—thanks to modern toxins and processed food. And an overly acidic body is one prone to cramps as well.

Calcium—It’s Not Just For Bones

For most people, calcium levels aren’t an issue.

But if you’re deficient, lack of the nutrient can lead to leg cramps, along with a host of other pains. That’s because calcium is just as crucial for properly functioning muscles as magnesium.

That means, drink your milk! And, if milk isn’t your thing, take calcium supplements.

However, that alone might not do it. If you know that you’re taking in enough calcium, the problem might be your Vitamin D levels.

You see, without enough Vitamin D, your body can’t absorb calcium very well.

And during the winter months, we just can’t get enough Vitamin D from sunlight, the most common and natural source of the nutrient.

Again, D-fortified milk can solve the problem. Or, if you’re lactose-intolerant—or just don’t like the taste—Vitamin D3 supplements can fill the gap.

If Epsom salt baths aren’t doing the trick, see a doctor about a nutrient screen that includes calcium and Vitamin D. If you’re low, you’ve found your answer.

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Get Off The Meds!

There’s a huge laundry list of commonly-prescribed drugs that can cause leg cramps—everything from beta blockers and statins, to diuretics and antipsychotics.

If you start a new drug and get leg cramps right away, there’s a strong chance that’s the issue. Talk with your doctor about switching your prescription.

But sometimes, it takes awhile for a drug’s adverse side effects to show up. So even if you haven’t just begun a new regimen, your medicine cabinet still might be responsible for your cramps.

With my patients—as long as it’s safe—I get them off all their meds when problems arise. And, much more often than not, that solves the issue.

However, if you suspect a drug might be contributing to your pains, make sure you get off it safely. You have to be weaned off some drugs, so make sure your prescribing doctor knows what you’re doing and considers it safe.

Dopamine Is More Than The Happiness Hormone

While most people think of dopamine as the happiness and love hormone, it’s responsible for plenty of other body functions.

And when you don’t have enough dopamine, it can result in leg cramps. Indeed, extreme cases of dopamine deficiency can result in restless leg syndrome.

Your dopamine levels can fall for plenty of reasons, but it’s commonly a side effect of pharmaceuticals. Another reason to get off the drugs.

A simple screen from your doctor can check your dopamine levels. If they’re low, see if you can find an obvious culprit in your pill pack. They can also drop due to an illness.

In the meantime, mucuna beans are entirely safe, natural, and contain a precursor to dopamine. When I have a patient with low dopamine, I get them eating plenty of mucuna beans, STAT! (You may find them under the name velvet bean, cowage, lacuna bean, or Lyon bean.)

Get To The Bottom Of Your Cramps

Your leg cramps can be caused by any of several different issues.

In almost every case, an Epsom salt and baking soda bath, two or three times a week, will fix you right up.

Baths are safe and pleasant, and Epsom salt is very cheap.

Take a few long soaks first. Only if that doesn’t work, should you bother with digging deeper.

In the vast majority of those left, calcium or Vitamin D deficiency is the problem.

And for almost everyone else, low dopamine is the problem.

However, if you’ve done screens and found that all your nutrient and hormone levels are normal, there is the chance that your leg cramps are the sign of something bigger.

That’s when you should see your doctor to make sure you don’t have another problem, like cirrhosis.

But don’t go jumping to conclusions. Leg cramps are almost always caused by a lack of magnesium.

Whatever the underlying issue, though, it pays to find out. In nearly every case, the solution is cheap and easy.

And a proper night’s sleep is well worth the effort of figuring out what solution will work for you.

References

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  • Gauri Bhat

    calcium n magnesium with proper sleep works wonders. which most of us miss on!

  • polly

    I have been having severe cramps at night .I now take my magnesium vitaminD3 and Tumeric before bedtime.So far it seems to work

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