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Easing Leg Cramp Agony

The agonising pain of leg cramps has to be experienced to be believed, writes Judy Hobson.

Leg cramps often strike suddenly in the middle of the night, not only jolting the sufferer awake, but his or her partner too. At first the excruciating pain takes your breath away, then it forces you to shout out, rudely rousing your partner from their slumbers too.

It is not know for sure how common leg spasms are because most people do not bother to discuss them with their doctor. Incidence is associated with the ageing process, with 33 percent of the over-60s and more than half of the over-80s affected.

The painful spasms, which can last from a few seconds to ten minutes, usually occur in calf muscles but can also strike in the toes, feet and thighs. The subsequent pain and tenderness can last an hour or more.

A survey of 100 people, aged 30 to 65, carried out last April for RealMag Legs, a new magnesium food supplement from Bausch+Lomb revealed that my husband is not alone. Like him, 60 percent of the participants were woken by leg cramps and 97 percent reported having them at some point.

While most (69 percent) got cramps in their calves, almost half (47 percent) had them in their feet and 31 percent in their toes.

Sammy Margo, a chartered physiotherapist and sleep expert with clinics in North London says "There are many hypotheses as to the cause of the night-time leg cramps but no one as yet has discovered the true cause. What we do know is that this is a common problem, particularly in older people.

"As we age, the collagen fibres in our legs get shorter and tighter and therefore become less springy. Night-time leg cramps come on very suddenly and can go on for half an hour to an hour. They are a major disruption to sleep, but are something that is beyond our control. They occur well into sleep and are brought on by and involuntary contraction of our calf muscles. Our tendons stretch, nerve receptors come alive, over-react and send pain messages to the brain and wake me up."

Athletes who have overdone it during the day, she says, often get leg cramps, as do dehydrated marathon runners. The bad news fort older people like my husband is that if they have taken exercise they are not used to, such as dancing the night away at the wedding along with consuming a few alcoholic drinks, they may well be woken by leg cramps in the early hours the next day.

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