How To Stop Leg Cramps At Night
The following tips may help you avoid leg cramps while sleeping:
- Drink plenty of fluids. Fluids allow for normal muscle function. You might need to adjust how much fluid you drink based on factors such as the weather, your age, activity level, and medication youre taking.
- Stretch your legs. Stretching your calves and hamstrings before bed can reduce the frequency and severity of nocturnal leg cramps.
- Ride a stationary bike. A few minutes of easy pedaling might help loosen up your leg muscles before you go to sleep.
- Change your sleeping position. You should avoid sleeping in positions in which your feet are pointing downward. Try sleeping on your back with a pillow behind your knees.
- Avoid heavy or tucked-in bedding. Heavy or tucked-in bedding could push your feet downward while you sleep. Choose loose, untucked sheets, and a comforter that will allow you to keep your feet and toes upright while you sleep.
- Choose supportive footwear. Poor footwear can aggravate issues with the nerves and muscles in your feet and legs, especially if you have flat feet.
Causes Of Nocturnal Leg Cramps
Nocturnal leg cramps may cause distress and sleep disruption. As a result, it impacts on physically the quality of life. People develop nocturnal leg cramps for various reasons, such as:
Overexerting the muscle tissues in the legs with vigorous workout may lead to stretching of muscles. Long hours of standing or strolling also lead to such muscle fatigue. Muscle fibres need to relax in between the contraction movement. However extensive workouts which dont allow the muscle to relax may lead to exertion of energy from muscle tissue. Night leg cramps in elderly people, usually involving the calf muscles or the small muscles of the foot, are troublesome. Muscle pain arises from dysregulated nerve impulses that limit muscle movements, as may additionally end result in muscle spasms and cramps.
Magnesium is another indispensable nutrient that supports a number of bodily functions. Along with blood stress regulation, DNA synthesis, it also regulates muscle health. Insufficient amount of magnesium in your body, it can cause leg cramps. People suffering from certain diseases such as celiac disease, chronic diarrhoea, and alcoholism can have magnesium deficiency.
Some of the signs and symptoms regarding magnesium deficiency include:
Moderate-to-severe magnesium lack may also cause:
- involuntary muscle contractions
- heart arrhythmias
What To Expect At Your Office Visit
The provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your medical history and symptoms.
Blood and urine tests may be done. Tests may include:
- Potassium, calcium and magnesium levels.
- Vitamin D levels .
- Nerve conduction and electromyography tests may be ordered to determine if nerve or muscle disease is present.
Treatment depends on the cause of the spasms. For example, if they are due to dehydration, your provider will likely suggest you to drink more fluids. Some studies suggest that certain medicines and vitamins may help.
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Abnormalities Of Iron Metabolism
Iron deficiency, even at a level too mild to cause anemia, has been linked to RLS in some people. Some research suggests that RLS in some people may be due to a problem with getting iron into cells that regulate dopamine in the brain. Some studies have reported RLS in a quarter to a third of people with low iron levels.
What Do Night Leg Cramps Feel Like
Nocturnal leg cramps dont feel anything like sore muscles theyre actually extremely painful. It often feels like an intense tightening or knotting up of the muscle that can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. It wakes people right out of sleep, says Daniel Barone, MD, sleep expert and neurologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian and author of Lets Talk About Sleep. The pain is so severe that you dont know what to do. These involuntary contractions in the legs, typically occur in your calves, but can also cause muscle spasms in your feet and thighs as well. Older adults over the age of 50 tend to experience leg cramps at night more frequently than younger adults and children. And yet, doctors still cant explain why leg cramps at night appear more often in older age groups, but they suspect it may have to do with becoming more sedentary in our later years. As we get older, were not as active, says Dr. Fisher. When youre not stretching or using your muscles as much, you might tend to have more cramps at night.
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Causes And Risk Factors Of Leg Cramps At Night
Even though the real cause of nocturnal leg cramps is not fully understood, the potential causes and risk factors are already known. Among them are:
- Standing or working on concrete floor
- Sitting improperly
- Sitting for prolonged periods of time
- Overexertion of the muscles in the leg
Leg cramps at night can be caused by medical conditions as well, such as:
- Neuromuscular disorders
- Structural disorders like flat feet
- Endocrine disorders like diabetes
- Parkinsons disease
What Treatment Is Available
For treatment to be effective, it is essential to understand the trigger or cause of the dystonia. Certain medications may be effective for some people but not for others. Some work by interfering with neurotransmitters in the brain and disrupting the messages they send to muscles. Others work by relaxing the muscles to reduce shaking and improve muscle control.
Depending on the cause and severity of your dystonia, your doctor may suggest the following strategies:
Remember that not all of these strategies will work for everyone so it is important to communicate well with your doctor so that, together, you can find the best solution for you.
Keeping a diary: If the dystonia is levodopa-related, it is a good idea to keep a ‘motor diary’ to record when dystonic spasms occur and how they relate to the timing of medications. This information can help your doctor adjust dosage and/or timings of medication to better manage your dystonia. For more information, see Keeping a diary.
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Can You Get Leg Cramps At Night
Leg cramps at night happen when youre not very active, or when youre asleep. They may wake you up, make it harder for you to fall back asleep and leave you feeling sore all night. Yearly, monthly, weekly, nightly the frequency of leg cramps depends on the person. Nocturnal leg cramps can happen to anyone at any age, but they happen most often to older adults. Of people over age 60, 33% will have a leg cramp at night at least once every two months. Nearly every adult age 50 and older will have them at least one time. Seven percent of children will, as well. Approximately 40% of pregnant women will experience leg cramps at night. The reason behind that is thought to be that the extra weight of pregnancy strains the muscles.
Three-quarters of all reported leg cramps happen at night.
Here’s The Scoop On The Surprisingly Common Condition
No one likes to jolt awake from a deep sleep to a shooting pain radiating through their leg. Most people refer to this type of leg cramp as a Charley horse and its incredibly common for them to occur at night. It can be totally debilitating because it affects your sleep, says Cory Fisher, DO, family medicine physician at the Cleveland Clinic. When people dont sleep well, they wake up unrefreshed and it does negatively affect their lives. Below is everything you need to know about leg cramps at night and how to prevent them.
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Other Conditions Associated With Restless Legs Syndrome
The following medical conditions are also associated with RLS, although the relationships are not clear. In some cases, these conditions may contribute to RLS. Others may have a common cause, or they may coexist due to other risk factors:
- Osteoarthritis . About three-quarters of patients with RLS also have osteoarthritis, a common condition affecting older adults.
- Varicose veins. Varicose veins occur in about 1 in 7 patients with RLS.
- Diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes may have higher rates of secondary RLS. Nerve pain related to their diabetes cannot fully explain the higher rate of RLS.
- Hypertension .
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease .
- Chronic alcoholism.
- Sleep apnea and snoring.
- Chronic headaches.
- Brain or spinal injuries.
- Many muscle and nerve disorders. Of particular interest is hereditary ataxia, a group of genetic diseases that affects the central nervous system and causes loss of motor control. Researchers believe that hereditary ataxia may supply clues to the genetic causes of RLS.
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder .
- Psychiatric disorders, such as depression.
What Causes Nocturnal Leg Cramps
The cause of nocturnal leg cramps is still unknown. No clinical trials present hard proof of what causes this condition. However, in some cases nocturnal leg cramps have been related to:
- Oversitting for a long period of time
- Too much force in the muscles
- Improper sitting
- Standing on concrete and rough floors
In addition, several medical conditions and types of medications have also been linked to this abnormal muscle contraction. These include:
- Beta-agonists, diuretics, and statins
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How Are Leg Cramps Diagnosed
Your healthcare provider will need to know your medical history, medications and a description of what youre experiencing. Be specific. Report your symptoms to your healthcare provider and include the following information:
- When the leg cramps started happening.
- What your pain feels like.
- When the cramps happen .
- How long the cramps last.
- Any other symptoms youre experiencing.
Your healthcare provider will need to tell the difference between your leg cramps from other conditions that may resemble them:
To distinguish those differences, your healthcare provider may:
- Check the palpation of pulses.
- Evaluate physical sensations such as pinpricks.
- Test deep tendon reflexes.
- Test the strength of your leg.
How Do I Take Care Of Myself
Come up with a treatment plan with your healthcare provider that includes a prevention plan and an in-the-moment treatment plan. Ideas for a prevention plan include several activities you may want to do every day:
- Exercise: Do leg exercises during the day, and mild, brief walking or biking right before bed.
- Hydration: Drink eight glasses of water each day and avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
- Medications and vitamins: Take all vitamins and medications exactly how theyre prescribed by your healthcare provider.
- Prepare your bed space: Keep a heating pad and massage roller next to your bed.
- Shoes: Purchase supportive shoes.
- Sleeping position: Experiment with different positions to see if one works better than another. Keep your toes up if youre on your back and hang your feet over the end of the bed if you lie on your front.
- Stretch: Stretch your legs before and after exercising, and right before you go to sleep.
Your in-the-moment treatment plan could include the eight steps mentioned in the Management and Treatment section:
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How Can I Help Myself
You will need to try a variety of sensory tricks to see what works for you as dystonia affects everyone differently.
Spasms may be reduced by touching the affected part of the body either before or during any movement known to trigger dystonia. Although this may not prevent or stop a spasm, touching can distract or trick the brain and reduce the length and intensity of a muscle contraction.
Simple massage exerting pressure on the foot, or the use of a hot water bottle or heated pad can also help, as can movement and exercise – see Coping Strategies – Tips & Tricks.
For eye spasms, some people find lying down, singing, yawning, laughing, chewing, putting pressure on the eyebrows or just talking can help. Spasms in the vocal cords may respond to yawning or sneezing.
Simply relaxing may also help so try taking a bath, having a massage or a calming activity such as yoga.
Cognitive And Psychiatric Symptoms
- depression and anxiety
- mild cognitive impairment slight memory problems and problems with activities that require planning and organisation
- dementia a group of symptoms, including more severe memory problems, personality changes, seeing things that are not there and believing things that are not true
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What Questions Should I Ask My Healthcare Provider About Leg Cramps
- Do you think that my leg cramps are a symptom of an underlying condition?
- Can you show me the best exercises I can do to stretch my muscles?
- Can you show me the best massage techniques I can use to help with my leg cramps?
- Is it safe for me to take medication for my leg cramps? Which medications should I take?
- Do you recommend that I see a physical therapist, sleep specialist, massage therapist, or other specialist?
- How can I help my child when they have a leg cramp?
- Should I keep an eye out for symptoms other than leg cramps that might indicate a more serious condition?
- How often should I come back to visit you about my leg cramps?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Leg cramps can be unpredictable and agonizing. They can affect your sleep, your exercise routine and your general quality of life. Theyre common very normal and, fortunately, temporary, and there are steps you can take to manage them. Do your best to avoid risk factors, avoid medications with leg cramps as a side effect and take recommended preventative measures.
If youre concerned about the severity and duration of your leg cramps, or think that they may be caused by a serious condition, dont hesitate to contact your healthcare provider. Ask questions and voice your concerns. You dont have to just live with leg cramps.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/03/2020.
Environmental And Dietary Factors
The following environmental and dietary factors can trigger or worsen RLS:
- Iron deficiency. People who are deficient in iron are at risk for RLS, even if they do not have anemia.
- Folic acid or magnesium deficiencies.
- Caffeine. Coffee drinking is specifically associated with PLMD.
Drugs that may worsen or provoke RLS include:
- Calcium channel blockers
- Spinal anesthesia
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Symptoms Of Leg Cramps
The most common site of a cramp in aging seniors is the calf.
Obvious sign of a leg cramp is localized intense pain caused by extreme muscle tightening which can last several seconds to several minutes. The muscle at the site of tightening feels tender and hard to the touch.
These cramps in the calf make walking virtually impossible due to extreme pain. The longer the duration of the cramping, the more sore the muscle will remain even after the acute pain has subsided.
Contractions may occur while trying to sleep but are not uncommon at other times during the day. These have both been experienced by the author.
Tips To Relieve Leg Cramps In Seniors
Leg cramps are painful, and when they do occur, the immediate desire of the affected is to find relief. It is unhelpful if you do not know what to do as this will continue to prolong the pain. Lying down or sitting down will not provide any relief. So, what is the best treatment for leg cramps? Can you stopleg cramps immediately?
Stretch. Despite your aversion to doing so, straighten your leg and then flex it several times. Pull your toes towards your shin to stretch the muscles.
Massage the muscles. Use your hands to gently massage the muscles. Sometimes you may find this difficult to do because of the pain.
Stand Up. Press your feet against the floor as forcefully as you can. You might not have success doing this the first time, but persist until you can do it. It will provide some relief.
Begin to Walk. While you are walking around, ensure that you periodically wiggle your leg. Also, try to walk on your heels for some time to activate the muscles opposite your calf. Not very easy, but still doable!
Apply heat or cold to the affected area if possible. To apply heat use a heating pad or apply cold by wrapping a bag of ice in a towel.
Take Over-the-Counter Pain killers if you continue to experience soreness after cramping has subsided.
Finally, take some time to evaluate what could have triggered the event so that you try to manage future events.
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Dystonia Or Muscle Cramps
Muscle cramps and dystonia occur when one of your muscles, or a group of muscles, tightens or shortens involuntarily.
Muscle cramps and dystonia can be confusing as they can feel very similar. You may not always be able to tell the difference between them, but they are caused by separate problems and are therefore treated differently.
Muscle cramps in Parkinsons are generally caused by muscular rigidity and reduced movement rather than by muscles contracting. But, like dystonia, cramps can also be painful and very distressing.
Normal painkillers do not usually relieve them, but cramps often respond well to massage and the use of a hot water bottle or heated pad. Movement and exercise may also help to release cramps and reduce stiffness. If these do not help, then your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants.