Sudden night leg pain and cramps occur when the muscles in your lower leg involuntarily contract and tighten (called a “spasm”), often without warning while you are sleeping. Leg cramps at night are often confined to the calf muscles, but some people also feel their thigh or foot muscles cramping. Night or nocturnal leg cramps in the calf are also known as Charley Horses. These leg cramps do no permanent damage to your body, but they can be harmful from a psychological perspective. Sudden night leg cramps cause severe pain in some cases and can greatly diminish the quality of sleep for some individuals. Obviously, most people who experience leg cramps for the first time immediately want to know what causes leg cramps and how they can avoid or prevent night cramps in the future.
While there are many contributing factors to leg cramps, there are no fully known causes of night leg cramps. These contributing factors include being overweight, certain diseases and medical conditions, being older and various changes in diet and exercise. These contributing factors increase the chances of you getting sudden leg cramps at night, but they can’t be seen as an absolute predictor.
Leg Pain and Cramps at Night
Night leg cramps are harmless, but the pain can be intolerable, which will make it hard for you to sleep or can jolt you to wakefulness when you are already sleeping soundly.
The condition is also called nocturnal leg cramps. The pain involves the legs, calf muscle, thighs, and feet. When the pain hits, your first resolution is to stretch the contracted muscle with force in order to relieve the discomfort.
There is no need to worry because this is not a sign of an underlying condition, but there are certain health problems that make patients prone to cramps, such as peripheral artery disease and diabetes.
The pain lasts for several seconds to a few minutes, and only on rare occasions will it last longer than that. The pain can be severe that your muscle will feel tender the whole day. The older you get, the more prone you become to leg pain and cramps at night.
It is said that one in three people who are 60 years old and above experience the condition, with the statistics being doubled for those who are over 80 years old.
The real reason for the cramps is still unknown, but there are certain theories about why it happens. One theory states that it is common to happen at night since you are in the same position for a long period.
As a result, the calf muscle is shortened, which stimulates the contraction. If the condition persists and the pain is becoming intolerable, you can consult a general practitioner or a primary care physician about it.
The doctor will examine your legs and feet and will ask you about the symptoms and severity of pain. While there are medications that can cure the pain, the cramps can get better in time even without undergoing treatment.
Other Conditions Cause Leg Cramps at Night
The condition is typically experienced by those who are suffering from the following health conditions:
- Chronic kidney failure
- Addison’s disease
- Gastric bypass surgery
- Alcohol abuse
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Lead poisoning
- Parkinson’s disease
- Motor neuron problems
- Peripheral artery disease
- Type 2 diabetes
You are also prone to cramps if you are in the third trimester of your pregnancy, your work requires you to stand for a long period, and you are taking oral contraceptives and certain medications, such as statins, diuretics, and salbutamol.
This is also likely to happen to people who sweat a lot, especially when the weather is hot. By sweating profusely, your body will lose a lot of salts and will make you prone to experience leg cramps.
If you cannot do anything about it, the least you can do is to take the necessary supplements or add more salt to your diet in order to prevent its recurrence.
Stretching Exercises for Leg Cramps
Here are some effective exercises that you can do in order to avoid leg cramps. You can do one or all of these twice or thrice a day:
- Exercise the muscle by walking on tiptoes for a couple of minutes.
- Keep your legs straight and gently bend your ankles backward.
- Position yourself with a distance of a meter from a wall. Stand with your feet flat on the floor. Lean toward the wall with your arms stretched out. Make sure that your feet remain flat on the floor. Hold the pose for 10 seconds and go back to your starting position. Repeat the sequence up to 10 times.
- Jiggle your legs.
Leg Cramps Home Remedies
Here are some effective remedies that you can do for leg pain and cramps:
- Make sure that your toes are supported when you are sleeping.
If you prefer lying on front, allow your feet to hang on the edge of the bed. If you lie on your back, put a cushion or pillow behind your feet.
- Let the sheets and blankets lose in order to keep your toes and feet from pointing downwards as you sleep.
- Choose the right footwear, especially if your feet have structural problems or they are flat.
- Engage in the right exercises. Do not overdo it, especially the movements that will take a toll on your leg muscles.
- Drink plenty of fluids and make sure that your body is always hydrated. Athletes take sports drinks that help in avoiding cramps and in relieving the pain.
- Take a warm bath to help the muscle relax. As a substitute, you can also put a heating pad on the aching part of your body.
You can also use a cold pack, but do not put it directly on your skin. Wrap it in a cloth before placing it on your leg.
- Stretch your calf muscle and perform a quick massage until the pain is gone.
Ways to Prevent the Cramps
- Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid drinking any beverages that contain alcohol.
- Make it a habit of performing leg stretching exercises, especially before you sleep at night.
- Follow a balanced diet that is rich in nutrients, such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
- A good form of exercise that can stretch your leg muscle is biking. You can also use a stationary bike if you aren’t used to riding a bike.
Painkillers for the Cramps
Painkillers are effective in reducing the pain, but they take the time to start working. If the cramp is severe and your muscle feels tender several hours after, you can take over-the-counter painkillers.
Most doctors recommend pain medicines, such as Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and Acetaminophen. Make sure that you take the medications as per your doctor’s advice and always follow the instructions on the label.
The simple fact is that night leg cramps are generally seen as an annoyance by most medical doctors rather than a serious issue. But anyone who has experienced these severe and persistent leg cramps can attest, they are much worse than just an annoyance to be brushed aside. As the medical community continues to increase its understanding of the muscular and skeletal systems in our bodies there is an increased chance of actually finding the causes of leg cramps and designing a drug or program to prevent them.
What To Do For Leg Pain & Cramps at Night, Last Update: 12/4/2017