Ever wonder? 6.7.05

Q: How come you get let cramps only at night?
Q: How come you get let cramps only at night?

A: Leg cramps, a sudden, forceful and often painful contraction of the muscle, can happen at any time of the day for a variety of reasons, from muscle fatigue or high weight to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

Most occur in areas where muscles cross two joints, such as the calf, which crosses the ankle and knee or the hamstring and quadriceps, which cross the knee and hip.

In most cases, they last less than a minute and are best resolved by massaging the affected muscle, according to the Web site orthopedics.

about.com, but night-time leg cramps are a bit different.

As you drift off to sleep, you contract the muscles in your calves, allowing your body to stretch their tendons, but completing this action activates signals within the nerves that tell your body to continue contracting the muscle. If the contraction continues over a longer period of time than it should, it can create pain, according to Dr. Gabe Mirkin, a Maryland doctor who hosts The Dr. Gabe Mirkin show on CBS News Radio stations throughout the country.

“Painful muscle cramps at night can also be caused by nerve damage such as that caused by pinching a nerve, muscle damage, a partially obstructed flow of blood to the legs and abnormal mineral or hormone levels. So if you have this problem, check with your doctor,” said Mirkin in a 2003 broadcast.

Cramps without more serious causes are best resolved by extensively stretching before bedtime. Do wall push-ups to stretch the calf muscle and allow a heating pad to rest on your calves for 10 minutes before going to bed, said Mirkin.

Persistent leg cramps can be treated with medications containing quinine, which are often prescribed by physicians, but not recommended in over-the-counter form by the Food and Drug Administration.

Female patients on quinine should be careful with their use of the drug, particularly if they are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

The drug can cause miscarriages and birth defects as well as other side effects, including ringing in the ears, headache, nausea, chest pain and vision disturbance.

If you have a question you’ve been dying to learn the answer to, maybe we can help. Send us your question, and we’ll get on it. If we can find the answer, we’ll run it on Tuesdays in this ‘Ever Wonder’ space. Call (408) 842-9505 or e-mail [email protected] with questions.

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