Diabetes and Leg Cramps

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Is there a link between diabetes and leg cramps?

Several times that we have had our grandson for a sleepover, he wakes in the night with leg cramps and it got me wondering whether or not it is linked to his type 1 diabetes.

Whenever Alex awoke crying with leg pains, I would do my best to help ease the pain by massaging the area or applying warm washcloths to the area.

Sometimes it helped rather quickly and the cramps would ease quickly.

Other times I would be up for a few hours trying to ease the pain enough for him to go back to sleep.

Our daughter told me that sometimes she ends up putting him in a warm bath and that helps.

I only remember him having leg cramps rarely before diagnosis and we all figured it was just growing pains.

It has become much more regular since diagnosis which is actually what got me wondering if there was a connection.

Muscle cramps

Most people don’t experience muscle cramps often and they are even less frequent during the night.Diabetes and Leg Cramps

Often some simple stretching and massaging of the area are all that is required.

Typically, muscle cramps occur when a muscle involuntarily contracts and can range in severity from merely uncomfortable to very painful.

They most often occur in the calf, feet, or front or rear of the thighs. It is less common but possible to occur in the arms.

Muscle cramps can occur at any time of day but frequently wake people at night.

For people with diabetes, leg and/or foot cramps may be an indication of neuropathy.

With Alex, it is almost always in the calf or thigh and it can take anywhere upwards of half an hour to ease his pain.

I’m sure you will agree that a half-hour in the middle of the night feels like forever for both the person in pain and the one trying to comfort them and ease their pain.

Relationship to diabetes

There are several reasons diabetics can experience muscle cramps such as…

High or Low Blood SugarsDiabetes and Leg Cramps

For muscles to properly relax and contract they require glucose and a balance of electrolytes such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium.

When there is an imbalance muscle cramps can result.

Low blood glucose (sugar) levels mean the muscles are starved for glucose.

When blood glucose levels are too high, the body excretes excess glucose along with water and salts resulting in reduced electrolyte levels.

This past summer when we had the kids out on the sailboat for a few days, Alex had muscle cramps in the night.

I believe several factors contributed to this unwelcome sleep interruption.

First of all his sugars had been running high all day.

We carefully counted his carbs at mealtimes, dosed his insulin according to his carb count with an extra half dose to compensate for the pre-meal high, and getting him to drink more water than he really wanted.

We made sure he was able to get exercise swimming by tying him to the boat when the waves were fairly high, he loved that.

It was extremely hot, humid weather with local heat warnings in place and Alex tends to run high in the heat and then add in the excitement of a sailing adventure without his parents.

I am thinking the combination of all these things contributed to his high blood glucose levels.

We did check for ketones to be sure he wasn’t in danger of DKA.

It is very important to always follow your doctor’s recommendations for your diabetes treatment of highs and lows. We are in no way offering medical advice, simply sharing our experiences.

Nerve Damage

People who have peripheral vascular disease or diabetic neuropathy often have poor circulation which causes nerve damage.

That nerve damage is likely to cause muscle spasms.

Alex’s doctors have explained that it is important to get his numbers as close to within range as possible to avoid further nerve damage.

Medications

Certain diabetes medications may cause muscle cramps.Diabetes and Leg Cramps - insulin

These medications can include:

  • insulin
  • cholesterol-lowering medications
  • blood pressure medications
  • oral contraceptives
  • beta-agonist drugs (drugs used for opening the airways)

Prevention

Diabetics can certainly help prevent muscle cramps from developing by:Diabetes and Leg Cramps - healthy diet

  • carefully monitoring blood glucose levels and making corrections as necessary
  • eating a healthy well-balanced diet
  • being sure to eat foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium
  • get daily exercises such as a walk or bicycle ride
  • Wear comfortable, well-fitting footwear

You will significantly lower your risk of muscle cramps the better you manage your diabetes each day. Be sure to follow your diabetes care plan as set forth by your diabetes care team.

Treatments

Usually, muscle cramps are infrequent and can be relieved by stretching or massage. In some cases, the application of a warm compress or taking a warm bath may help as in the case of our grandson.

If muscle cramps become more regular or frequent you should discuss this with your diabetic care team so they can determine if treatment is necessary.

Diabebetic Neuropathy

Once you have been diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy it is extremely important to carefully manage your blood glucose levels to avoid further nerve damage.

You may be prescribed medication for pain relief, be sure to take it as recommended.

Dietary SupplementsDiabetes and Leg Cramps - dietary supplements

Eating healthily is an important part of diabetes management and you will have worked with your diabetes care team to determine the best diet for you.

Despite eating healthily, some people may still be lacking certain vitamins and minerals which may be causing muscle cramps.

If this is the case, your doctor will recommend a supplement to take which will work with your current medication.

Physical Therapy

Attending physical therapy can teach you certain exercises that may help relieve pain.

Ensuring you get regular daily exercise can also help both prevent muscle cramps and relieving the pain associated with them.

Soaking your feet and legs in a relaxing, warm bath can help ease the pain of muscle cramps as well. This works particularly well for our grandson Alex, in fact, he often asks for a bath when he wakes with leg cramps.

Final Thoughts

Yes, there is definitely a connection between diabetes and leg cramps.

While anyone can certainly get leg cramps, there is definitely a higher risk of diabetics getting them.

Muscle cramps can often be treated with stretching, massage, or a warm bath or compress applied to the area.

It is when these muscle cramps become frequent that it becomes a concern and should be discussed with your diabetes care team.

They can run tests to determine the necessary course of treatment required to prevent further nerve damage.

Naturally, the better you manage your diabetes on a daily basis the lower your risk of developing serious and irreparable nerve damage.

Be sure to frequently check blood glucose levels and make any necessary corrections.

Eat a healthy diet and include foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Get regular exercise such as walking, daily.

Work closely with your diabetes care team and follow all recommendations.

“I am not in any way a medical practitioner, please do not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. We only share our experiences.”

Do you struggle with muscle cramps?

How you treat them?

Do you have any suggestions for preventing muscle spasms from occurring?

Leave your suggestions in the comment section below. I look forward to trying new ideas.


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4 thoughts on “Diabetes and Leg Cramps”

  1. Hey Deb, I know from your articles that Alex is a happy kid, still I think at times “Oh, that poor kid”. It must be hard for him sometimes to deal with side effects as well.

    I have muscle cramps as well occasionally. In my case it’s always a shortage of magnesium I guess, because I am a 90-95% vegetarian/vegan person. And magnesium is mainly in fish, meat, grain and some vegetables. I hardly eat fish and grain, and no meat at all.

    On the other hand, science doesn’t back up that the cause is a shortage of magnesium, so I can’t be sure.

    I pull my toes in the direction of my knees. That usually helps. 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Hannie, I often have the same thoughts in regards to Alex. However, he is constantly amazing me with his resilience. Yes, he sometimes has issues with leg cramps but we do what we can to help him through it, and other than a few tears during the cramps it doesn’t fizz on him. He usually goes back to sleep easily once the cramp has eased. He doesn’t let any aspect of living with diabetes get him down. To watch him play you would never know he had such health issues. I really believe a big part of that is a result of my daughter and son-in-law. Even though our government considers diabetes a handicap, they don’t treat their son as though he is handicapped in any way. He has to follow the same rules as his sisters and is expected to do his chores too. At times certain allowances might be necessary such as an extra snack to treat a low but we have all adapted well. Once you live with the demands of diabetes management you somehow learn to structure all aspects of your life around it. Sorry to hear you have muscle cramps as well. Is there a magnesium supplement you could take that might help?

      Reply
  2. wow
    This article was so insightful.
    I have had nerve damage due to having a heart related issue and I can say for sure that you are right that never damage causes muscle cramps and this explains a lot why I have been having these cramps.

    Reply
    • Thanks for dropping by Thabo. I am thankful my article has helped you understand what is happening within your own body. It is so important to be sure to work with your doctor and treat the underlying causes such as the heart issue you mentioned. I also recommend trying massage on the cramping area or applying heat for short intervals. With our grandson, the combination of heat and massage gives him some relief. Best wishes to you.

      Reply

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