I get asked … night cramps

Dear Diana

During the night I often suffer from cramp in my legs and feet whilst I am in bed.  The pain can be excruciating, but fortunately doesn’t last too long.  What causes cramp and is there anything I can do to prevent it?

Belinda Potts  Surrey

Answer

Belinda I know how you feel, it happens to me! A third of people over 60 experience leg cramps, around 40% three or more cramps a week. Leg cramps are common, usually harmless, affecting any part including feet and thighs, but often the calf muscles. Muscles suddenly contract (shorten), causing pain and temporary loss of control of the affected muscle. Painful at the time cramp can occur suddenly for no apparent reason and last from a few seconds to several minutes. Pain and tenderness can be felt for several hours afterwards. In some people dehydration (caused by low levels of water in the body) leads to a drop in salt levels, which can trigger muscle cramps.

Keeping sheets and blankets loose, plus regular exercise and stretching the lower leg muscles may help prevent cramps. To stretch your calf muscles, stand with toes on a stair (hold bannister for support) with heels hanging over edge. Slowly lower heels down to below the level of stair. Hold for a few seconds and feel the stretch! Repeat 10 times. If leg cramps are frequent, plus symptoms like numbness or swelling it may be an indication of secondary leg cramps caused by an underlying condition. Talk to your GP.