September 23, 2017
Nocturnal Leg Cramps
Ask the Experts

Nocturnal Leg Cramps

by Berkeley Wellness  |  

Q: What can I do about nocturnal calf cramps?

A: Most of us get these on occasion, usually for no apparent reason. Some medications can promote leg cramps—oral contraceptives, certain psychiatric drugs and certain blood pressure medicines, notably diuretics. Sometimes legs cramps go along with such disorders as diabetes or Parkinson’s disease, in which case treating the underlying condition may help. Pregnancy also increases the risk of leg cramps, as can having flat feet and weak leg muscles.

The best way to relieve the cramp is to massage the calf muscles, stretch them by pulling your toes up toward your knee and walk around.

To help prevent them, give your feet room. That is, don’t tuck in the sheets and blankets too tightly if you sleep on your back, since they can press down on your feet. Wear comfortable shoes with low heels. If you have very weak calf muscles, do exercises such as toe raises. Massage and stretch your calf muscles, especially before bedtime.

Don’t expect dietary supplements to prevent or alleviate cramps, unless if you are taking a diuretic for hypertension and begin having leg cramps. In this case, case your doctor may prescribe potassium. Do not start taking potassium supplements on your own.

Quinine may help prevent leg cramps but is not a satisfactory treatment because of its dangerous side effects, such as heart arrhythmias and a decrease in blood platelets. You can no longer buy quinine over the counter, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned against using prescription quinine for leg cramps. There isn’t enough quinine in most tonic water to have an effect.