There’s nothing worse than coming in from a night out, falling asleep and waking up later with the most horrendous leg cramps. But why does this happen after having a few alcoholic beverages?
“Muscle cramps are involuntary, painful, spasmodic contractions of the skeletal muscle,” explains Jonathan Chick, medical advisor to Drinkaware.
“Although cramps are a common clinical complaint, their cause and treatment are not well established.”
In a healthy person, exercise is the most common cause of cramp as it increases lactic acid in the muscle, he says. So if you apply this theory to drinking, cramp might occur because you’ve been exerting yourself while dancing or standing for long periods at the bar.
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”Additionally, if you drink alcohol but have not consumed food, blood glucose may fall as a result and this is another cause of build-up of lactic acid,” Chick says.
Chick adds that regular, excessive drinkers admitted to hospital with alcohol withdrawal tend to have low magnesium and potassium levels, which can disturb muscle function.
“Such patients sometimes feel cramp immediately,” he explains. “It can continue for weeks after stopping drinking which probably reflects semi-permanent damage to the nerves serving the muscle. It can recover with abstinence and nutrition.”
He suggests that these form of cramps might be partly due to thiamine deficiency, as regular heavy drinkers fail to absorb thiamine (vitamin B1) from food or may have a poor diet.
To prevent cramp, Dr Clare Morrison, GP at online pharmacy MedExpress, suggests drinking lots of water, lightly stretching before bed and loosening the covers.