Magnesium for Leg Cramps
Leg cramps are a common issue and are associated with a number of different environmental conditions. People can experience leg cramps while exercising, during pregnancy, or just as a chronic condition that seems to be worse in the evening. Magnesium has long been thought of as a treatment for all of these leg cramp types. Even when I was pregnant I remember reading about magnesium and the most common and safest way to deal with cramps but when I asked my doctor, she was skeptical. I was told that it probably wouldn’t hurt but she couldn’t guarantee it would help either. So how did magnesium become the default remedy and does it do anything to help?
In order to understand how magnesium became a popular treatment, we need to look at the causes of leg cramps. Cramps can be caused by a number of factors including a lack of blood supply to the area, nerve compression, and mineral deficiency. When you are exercising, your arteries can become narrowed, causing a lack of blood supply to areas like the legs. The resulting cramps should resolve after exercising ends. Compression of the nerves in your spine can also cause cramps in your legs. Pregnancy tends to put more pressure on areas such as the spine so after the pregnancy ends, the cramps will go away. Mineral deficiency, however, is a bit more tricky.
We need to maintain a proper balance of minerals in our diet in order to remain healthy. It's believed that an imbalance of potassium, calcium, or magnesium can lead to leg cramps. Although there is not a clear reason why, one theory is that too much calcium gets into the nerve cells and hyperstimulates the muscle nerves, causing them to cramp. Dehydration or taking diuretics seems to make this worse. Age also seems to play a factor in unexplained leg cramps as well, although there isn’t a clear explanation why. However, people have anecdotally reported that taking magnesium relieves some symptoms. Magnesium is relatively inexpensive and safe to take and so this has become a popular treatment method.
Does it work?
Sometimes we don’t know why a treatment works, but we can study the results of applying that treatment to see if it consistently helps. Despite the anecdotal information out there, magnesium just doesn’t stand up in clinical studies. Studies that look at magnesium for those with cramps who exercise, are pregnant, or have chronic night cramps all turn out about the same: that there is no statistical difference between taking magnesium and a placebo for treatment. There is just nothing out there in the scientific community that supports magnesium as an effective way to deal with cramps. Having said that, it doesn’t seem to make them worse either. The one thing that does seem to make a difference is making sure that dehydration is not a factor by drinking enough water. And while this isn’t a cure for leg cramps, it is at least one pro-active thing that you can do if you are suffering from unexplained night cramps and feeling helpless.
Garrison, S., Allan, G., Sekhon, R., Musini, V., & Khan, K. (2012, September 12). Magnesium for skeletal muscle cramps. Retrieved July 28, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7025716/
Hecht, M. (2019, July 08). Magnesium for Leg Cramps: Does It Work? What to Do If It Doesn't. Retrieved July 28, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/magnesium-for-leg-cramps
Arnarson, A. (n.d.). 7 Signs and Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency. Retrieved July 28, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-deficiency-symptoms
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