Got leg cramps? Getting kicked by the dreaded charley horse happens more often as we age. “Studies estimate that 50 to 60 percent of adults report experiencing leg cramps regularly,” said Richard E. Allen, M.D., and Karl A. Kirby, M.D. And almost 20 percent of patients who experience frequent leg cramps have seen their doctor for treatments.
Here are four ways to reduce the risk of feeling tied in knots.
Summer outdoor fun often means we don’t drink enough fluids, and that increases the risk of dehydration and leg cramps. John Higgins, M.D., says to pull up on a fold of skin on the back of your hand, then let it go. If it quickly returns to normal, you are in good shape. But if the skin is slow to return to normal position, Higgins says you might be dehydrated. “Remember not to overlook the fluids you are getting from other sources,” says Steve Hertzler, Ph.D., “Fruit and veggies are 80 to 90 percent water and provide helpful hydration.”
Related link: How to coddle your kidneys and stay healthy
Studies show that lack of potassium, sodium, or calcium is linked to frequent leg cramps. Daily servings of fruits like oranges, melon, or bananas, and drinking milk or tomato juice can help prevent painful leg cramps. Experts also advise avoiding caffeine. “Caffeine can contribute to cramps by constricting your blood vessels and decreasing circulation in muscles,” says writer Perri O. Blumberg. Switch to decaf coffee, herbal tea, or water.
Some high blood pressure medications deplete your body of necessary fluids. Dr. Allen and Dr. Kirby added, “Many medications are strongly associated with leg cramps.” If you have made other changes in your lifestyle yet leg cramps persist, then it’s time to talk with your doctor.
Related link: Are medications throwing shade on outdoor fun?
4. If frequent, talk with your doctor about underlying causes
Though heavy workouts are often to blame, moderation offers long-term benefits. “Strength and weight-bearing training is an important part of our rehabilitation,” said Trent Gunnell, director of rehabilitation at Parke View Rehabilitation & Care Center.
The exact cause remains unknown. One theory says that when a muscle tightens for a long period, the shortened muscle is stimulated to contract thus causing it to spasm. But other causes can be linked to an underlying disease. “Nocturnal leg cramps are associated with vascular disease, lumbar canal stenosis, cirrhosis, hemodialysis, and other medical conditions,” says Dr. Allen. Leg cramps can be an early sign of diabetes, pulmonary problems, or compressed nerves. “While most of these cramps are short-lived and no reason for concern, Dr. Allen says that if leg cramps persist, you should see your doctor to rule out a more serious condition.
An active lifestyle is a key to good health in our senior years, but when the response to daily exercise is a night filled with painful leg cramps, simple changes can make a big difference in making nighttime the right time for rest and relaxation.
This article was originally published by Orange County Register. It has been republished with permission.