leg cramps - they're worth investigating...

Leg cramps are a common problem, especially when people get older. If your leg cramps occur during or immediately after exercise, this may be a sign of arteriosclerosis (or “hardening of the arteries”), where the arteries are clogged by fatty deposits, limiting the supply of blood to the muscles. When you exercise your leg muscles need more oxygen. 

But because the arteries are narrowed, the arteries can't get enough and so they switch to anaerobic metabolism, which results in the build-up of chemicals which can trigger pain and spasm, usually in the calves. When you rest the pain gets better.  Smokers, people with high cholesterol levels or diabetes and those with a family history of heart disease are all at particular risk. In rare cases leg cramps are caused by medical conditions, such as an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), Addison's disease and kidney problems. 

Many people find that leg cramps cause particular trouble at night, when the pain stops them from sleeping or wakes them up. These are known as night cramps. They are rarely serious, although they can cause a lot of discomfort. Very heavy or tight bed covers can force the toes downwards, straining the leg muscles, so try to sleep under a light and loose duvet. 

When you start to exercise warm up gently, gradually building up the intensity of what you are doing so that the muscle isn't suddenly overworked or torn. After a short warm-up stretch the muscles out gently. Stretching also helps during the cramp to relieve the spasm and the pain. You should stretch out after exercise too.

Don't let yourself get dehydrated (particularly during exercise) because this can upset calcium and phosphorous levels in the body, which can trigger cramps. So drink plenty of fluid daily and more so before and during activity. Giving the muscles a good massage may help ease the discomfort.

Non-phosphate calcium supplements may also help to reduce cramps, as can magnesium supplements. Sometimes quinine is used to prevent night leg cramps, particularly at night. Try some tonic water, but if this does not help ask a pharmacist about quinine tablets.

» Recommended Supplements: Magnesium Citrate.
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