How to prevent this common sharp pain

How to prevent this common sharp pain

Many of us have been a victim of the ever-throbbing charley horse. In the midst of a sound sleep, you suddenly are awakened by an agonizing pain in your leg muscles. Sometimes, the pain can be so unbearable, it leaves you kicking off your sheets, screaming for help or in tears.

A Charley Horse can seem like the pain will never end. If the pain affects you, know you are not alone; 1 in 3 adults experience night muscle cramps.

“Prevention of muscle cramps can be frustrating for patients and vexing for their health care providers, as there is no standard of treatment,” says Dr. Brian Oostman, a family medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group in Aurora, Ill.

A study from the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research looked at 80 adults who experienced extremely painful muscle cramps about once a week in their calves or lower legs. These cramps can be described as spur-of-the-moment muscle “contractions” that have a fire-like sensation at rates up to 150 per second. Often, the cramps caused great sleep disruption and discomfort.

Through conducting a survey among participants, researchers gained a deeper understanding of the type of pain people were experiencing during muscle cramps. The survey found 89% of the participants were already asleep when cramps ignited, and the pain occurred during a wide variety of times throughout the night. Experiencing soreness around the calf muscles was a common side effect the next day. And some people experienced day cramps when sitting or climbing stairs.

The researchers discovered cramps can form from a number of factors: a scary dream, poor blood flow to legs, exercising too little or even over-exertion of the leg muscles.

The most frequent culprit of these muscle cramps seems to be your sleeping position. The researchers explain each person’s sleep patterns are unique, and when twisting your body in a particular way, you can be more inclined to cramping. Additionally, unconsciously performing movements with your feet play a role. For example, pointing your toes while asleep is a common Charley Horse trigger.

Taking preventive measures are key to help reduce your chance of becoming a victim of muscle cramps, but it’s important to keep in mind these strategies may not guarantee complete cure from muscle cramps.

“To prevent muscle cramps, I advise people to stay well hydrated, eat a balanced diet rich in calcium, potassium and magnesium, stretch each day – especially before exercise and avoid plantar flexion (pointing the toes) when sleeping,” says Dr. Oostman.

If you get a cramp or Charley Horse, Dr. Oostman recommends trying the following suggestions:

  1. If the cramp occurs in the leg, stand on the affected limb.
  2. Heat can help relax the muscle, especially an Epsom Salt bath.
  3. Ice can help dull the pain.
  4. If there is residual pain after the cramp resolves, NSAIDs may be helpful, but you should check with your doctor before taking.

Related Posts



  1. I used to get horrible leg cramps all the time. I began taking a high quality isotonic magnesium supplement that my body could absorb. No more leg cramps. I will never go a day without it. A good portion of the population is magnesium deficient and magnesium deficiency can lead to muscle cramps. I wish more people knew about this!

  2. I agree with Andrea, I take MG (professional brand) twice a day due to a rare disease that causes muscle spasms in more than just the legs. Every muscle in the body, in fact. I’ve even video taped the severity and showed my physician, who just prescribed muscle relaxers. My chiropractor suggested the magnesium. This has helped tremendously and reduced the amount and severity of the spasms.

  3. I used to get bad cramps especially at night. Cleaned up my diet and as soon as the artificial sweeteners were out of my diet, no more cramps! I used to be kept awake/wake up with these things nightly but haven’t had one for at least 5 or 6 years now.

  4. Sharon McKinney June 19, 2019 at 8:06 am · Reply

    I had to go on a rather high dose of prednisone (don’t remember the dosage) and got leg cramps at night until I was able to go off the prednisone. It was awful! I had a roller bar at the bedside and used that on my legs, especially the calf and the sides of the shin– it helped ease the contraction.

  5. Pennie Cialdini June 19, 2019 at 10:44 am · Reply

    I have had leg cramps for years; sometime during the day as well as during the night. I have tried everything including adding an aspirin to my daily diet, increasing my banana intake, multiple leg creams, prescribed medication, but nothing worked until I found an item called Theraworx. This over the counter medication has been a lifesaver helping me sleep without cramps . The active ingredient in Theraworx Relief Foam is magnesium sulfate (magnesia sulphurica) at 6X 0.05% HPUS. … Theraworx Relief Foam is intended for foot and leg muscle cramp relief.

  6. My magnesium of choice is Isotonix Magnesium. Nothing else out there like it! It is isotonic so it is like getting an oral IV (meaning you can drink it). Isotonic is the same pressure as your blood, sweat and tears. When taken correctly you will absorb 90-98% of the nutrients. I learned that not all supplements are created equal and the delivery system is critical in order for us to ABSORB the nutrients. Give it a try!

  7. I have leg cramps that go on throughout the night and during the day. I’ve had a severe on while driving and it has forced me to get off the highway and out of my car. I have checked with my Dr and all I get is the remedies. I take magnesium and it doesnt really help.. I am at my wits end and nothing seems to help. Anything I am told to do, I do it.. Need help!

  8. I used to get cramps in my calves while sleeping. I no longer get them after starting a routine every morning of 30 seconds in the downward dog position and focusing on stretching those calf muscles. Feels so good too! If you cannot do the downward dog position, you can always stretch out your arms shoulder height with palms against a wall reaching one leg back at a time with the foot flat on the floor. This is a great stretch too.

About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.