Night Time Leg Spasms: Natural Solutions

Knee and hamstring injury

It was 8 years ago when the strange onset of night time leg cramps first began to occur.  I was on vacation in Arizona when a series of severe leg cramps that I eventually realized were spasms caused me to jump to the floor abruptly from a sound sleep.  I couldn’t walk it off, I couldn’t stretch it out because it was in the mid to upper thigh region of my leg.  If you’re searching for natural solutions for night time leg spasms, this is my personal story of what worked for me.

The Agony of Night Time Leg Spasms

Finally, while in a standing position, I extended the affected leg onto the mattress and leaned in to stretch my inner thigh region.  I lingered there in that stretched position panting in agony for what seemed like at least 2 – 3 minutes.  Every time I thought the wave of painful muscle contractions had ended and returned to standing and started to walk, they would seize me again with such severity that I could hardly breathe.

Finally I could empathize with those basketball players I had seen writhing on the court while a huddle of people surrounded them for what seemed like an eternity before they stood to their feet and limped to the sidelines.  So that is why they’re always drinking those electrolyte beverages at athletic events!

Exploring the Cause(s) of Night Time Leg Spasms

When that first episode finally ended, I began to do a mental review to try and determine whether I was dehydrated, had the wrong shoes, or had just been on my feet too long.  I remember concluding after a mental inventory of preceding events that surely it had been just an electrolyte imbalance.  In addition to adding extra fluids, I substituted coconut water once I discovered that coconut water contains about 600 milligrams of potassium per cup compared to 362 milligrams for a medium banana.

I began to ask myself key questions such as what I could possibly have done to cause this sudden onset of the leg spasms from hell.  (Yes, they really are a personal hell if you suffer with them.)  My activity level had not changed. I even began to dread going to bed for fear of being awakened with more night time leg spasms.

When my lab results to assess for electrolyte imbalances were normal, my family physician had no definitive answers.  I began doing my own research.  I ran across many excellent articles such as  this article from Cleveland Clinic.

I found an article on the 8 different types of prescription drugs that can cause leg cramps but fortunately I was on none of those medications.   Furthermore I wasn’t interested in trying to solve a problem by adding yet another prescription drug that would have its own set of side effects and cause even more problems.

I considered adjusting my sitting and sleeping posture.  For days after a particularly severe leg spasm, I was aware of a knot in the location of the spasm.  I enlisted the services of a massage therapist specializing in deep tissue massage to help address the knots in my muscles afterward.  I did stretches.  I tried to find the best way to stretch the inner thigh muscles quickly in the event of reoccurrence of leg spasms.

Little did I know that those painful spasms would become even more frequent and (on several occasions) so intense and unrelenting that I would actually consider asking my daughter to drive me to the emergency room.

The low point was the night I got severe spasms in BOTH inner, upper thighs at the same time.   I’m certain I used some profanity that night as I was pressing and grinding my knuckles into the most intensely painful areas in an attempt to release the spasms.

So far the fluids, coconut water, and massage had not eradicated the night time leg spasms.  There were no medications responsible; I wanted answers and I wanted the spasms to just STOP and never return. At the time I was averaging one night time leg spasm every week (and sometimes more often).

Supplements

I added a highly absorbable magnesium supplement, taking 200 mg. twice daily (every morning and at bedtime), which measurably reduced the frequency and severity of the leg spasms to about once a month.  My goal however, was to have zero leg spasms.  I added a sustained release potassium tablet (99 mg.) once daily at bedtime.  My doctor didn’t agree. He was concerned I was going to create an imbalance that would affect my heart’s natural rhythm. Regardless, he offered no other simple solution to end the agony, nor was he as vested in researching it.

My lab values had been normal, yet I was clearly showing signs of calcium deficiency. I stopped the magnesium and potassium and started taking 1000 mg. daily of calcium. I am happy to report that the problem has gradually resolved.   Clearly lab values don’t always give the total picture of what’s going on in your body. What our bodies need in terms of supplementation (and in what amounts) is very specific to the individual.

Recognizing Trigger Points

However, my best discovery in addressing the leg spasms before they occur started with recognition of intense spots producing the major sources of the tenderness Those spots are known as “trigger points.”

Athletes who do weight training have likely experienced trigger points in various regions of their bodies.  Trigger point massage devices are a worthwhile investment because you can reach your own trigger points and do your own massage.  (I own the Back Buddy but Thera Cane is an excellent choice as well.)

Once I located the trigger points on each of my inner thighs, I applied massage lotion and began to massage with my trigger point massage device.  Initially there was such an intense burning sensation and discomfort with massage of the trigger points that I found myself holding my breath during the massage.

The key is to massage through the discomfort until the trigger point releases.  Believe me, you will know when this happens and the benefits will be worth the moments of discomfort.  Every evening before I go to bed, I did targeted trigger point massage.   After several days of targeted trigger point massage, the burning and tenderness finally subsided.  It took a couple of weeks of focused massage to finally release a small knot at one trigger point area.

Meanwhile I have added a variety of leg stretching to my regimen every night before I go to bed.  It has now been several months since I have experienced a night time leg spasm.  The last ones I had were very short duration and the pain was mild compared to the agony in the beginning.

Concluding Thoughts

Let me be clear, these measures were a gallant attempt to find natural solutions and end my own suffering from night time leg spasms.  This was a very successful, drug-free, all natural approach. I am not offering medical advice or recommending this as something my readers should do for the same problem.  As a nurse, I must tell you to consult your family physician for guidance for all medical concerns.

What a journey this has been!  On a personal level, it was worth the research and I hope you find this blog to contain useful information that will help you as well.  My sleep has never been better.

Other Sources of Supplementation

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