Background: Nocturnal leg cramps are a common health problem in the ambulatory setting. Our objective was to evaluate the efficacy of magnesium in the treatment of nocturnal leg cramps.
Methods: Our study was a crossover randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. We included patients from a large university-based ambulatory clinic in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with at least 6 cramps during the previous month. A total of 93 subjects took part in a 4-week washout period with placebo. Those who were still eligible (n = 45) were randomized to receive either (1) an oral dose of 900 mg magnesium citrate twice daily for 1 month, followed by a matching placebo for 1 month, or (2) the placebo first, followed by magnesium. Both groups had a 4-week washout period with placebo between each treatment month. Forty-two patients completed the 4-month study. The main outcome was the number of nocturnal leg cramps, and the secondary outcomes were duration, severity, and sleep disorders caused by those cramps.
Results: There were no significant differences between magnesium and placebo in any of the evaluated outcomes. The mean number of cramps was 11.1 (standard deviation [SD] +/- 7.3) for placebo versus 11.8 (SD +/- 7.6) for magnesium (P = .59). We observed a significant period-effect bias: All patients improved over time regardless of the treatment sequence they received.
Conclusions: Magnesium was not effective for the treatment of nocturnal leg cramps. The period-effect bias probably occurred because of a combination of the natural history of this condition, a regression to the mean, and a true placebo effect.