Muscle cramps have the painful power to wake a person from a deep sleep. Thankfully, a new treatment may be able to alleviate the intensity from nocturnal leg cramps to spasms caused by neuromuscular disorders like multiple sclerosis. Researchers from the American Academy of Neurology will be presenting their study’s findings at the American Academy of Neurology's 67th annual meeting in April.

"We estimate that approximately four million U.S. adults over the age of 65 suffer daily from nocturnal leg cramps, a condition for which there is significant unmet need, since there are no approved treatments," the study’s coauthor Dr. Rod MacKinnon, Nobel laureate and co-founder of Flex Pharma, said in a press release. "These leg cramps can cause distress, interrupted sleep, reduced quality of life and interference with activities of daily living."

For the study, researchers shocked the leg muscles of 37 participants to stimulate cramps in otherwise healthy people. Half of the participants received the oral treatment, while the other half was randomly selected to take a placebo. The treatment medication began to work within minutes and lasted up to eight hours. Those who took it reported cramps that were three times less intense than those who took the placebo.

Treatment for muscle cramps, especially those caused by a neuromuscular disorder, is difficult but not impossible. There are medications out there that can help ease muscle tension, such as baclofen, and oftentimes pain medications are used when the pain becomes uncontrollable. Disorders that affect the neurons can cause spasticity in varying degrees, and the treatment is designed to address the excessive firing of spinal neurons that control muscle contractions. By cutting off the neurons, in the transient potential (TRP), researchers found they were able to stop the unnecessary contractions before they even sent the message to the muscle.

For decades, quinine was the go-to prescription for people who experienced nocturnal leg cramps; however, the Food and Drug Administration banned the medication in 2012. They announced finding serious risks associated with treating or preventing cramps with quinine, which is why researchers have been looking into other safer solutions.

"These results support our belief that this treatment has significant potential as a solution for people suffering from muscle cramping and possibly spasms from a broad range of neuromuscular disorders, nighttime leg cramps, multiple sclerosis, spinal spasticity and cervical dystonia," MacKinnon said. "Cramps can impact even the world's fittest athletes at critical times."

Source: MacKinnon R. American Academy of Neurology’s 67th Annual Meeting. 2015.