Leg cramps occurs when your muscles contract abruptly. However, there are ways to stop leg cramps at night while sleeping. Leg cramps at night can be very excruciating. During night time sleep when your leg abruptly seizes, the pain that follows can be so agonizing. When you experience nocturnal leg cramps, it can make your muscles feel hard when touched, and the affected leg feels paralyzed.
Leg cramps, also called muscle spasms, occurs when the muscles of your legs undergo an uncontrolled contraction. Leg cramps mostly affect the calf muscle which covers the back of each leg from the ankle to the knee. Apart from calf muscle, leg cramps can also affect the quadriceps (muscles at the front of each thigh) and hamstrings (muscles at the back of each thigh).
In this article, we examined the causes of leg cramps and treatments, including how to stop leg cramps at night while sleeping.
Leg cramps can affect anyone, however, it is more common among older adults. Though statistics have shown women experience leg cramps more compared to their male counterparts. Nocturnal Leg cramps is common among women and older adults. Though leg cramps mostly occur at night, but it can also occur during the day time when a person is awake. When leg cramps strikes, it can take up to 10 minutes for the muscle to relax itself. Your leg may ache after a leg cramp, and pain may last up to 24 hours before disappearing.
The pain that comes with leg cramps vary from mild to extreme. The duration of the pain can linger from a few seconds to 10 minutes or more.
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Causes of Leg Cramps at Night While Sleeping
The actual cause of leg cramps at night is still vague and idiopathic, meaning the actual cause isn’t known. However, experts suspect your risks of developing leg cramps at night may be triggered by some factors such as:
Wrong sitting position. Keeping your legs crossed or toes pointed for lengthy time truncates the calf muscles, causing cramping.
Sedentary lifestyle. Muscles require regular stretching to function fittingly. Sitting for prolonged periods of time could make leg muscles more predisposed to cramping.
Overworking Muscles. Excess workout can create an overworked muscle and may be linked with muscle cramps.
Certain medications such as diuretics, beta blockers and other blood pressure drugs can trigger leg cramps.
Sometimes, these cramps also may be related to an underlying
metabolic condition, such as an underactive thyroid
(hypothyroidism) or a parathyroid condition.
Protracted standing. Standing for too long at work may trigger nocturnal leg cramps.
Abnormal nerve activity. Leg cramps are linked with increased, unusual nerve firing.
Shortening of the tendons. The tendons, which connect muscles and bones, shorten over time. This could lead to cramping in the muscles.
Insufficient intake of calcium, potassium, magnesium in your diet can be linked to leg cramps.
Nocturnal leg cramps may be linked to a person’s foot position. Sleeping with your feet away from the rest of our bodies (plantar flexion), can trigger leg cramps at night. This is because the calf muscles has become shortened, making them prone to cramping.
Leg Cramps at Night Complications
Leg cramps at night may not be the first sign of a severe medical condition. However, they are linked with the following conditions:
structural issues including spinal stenosis or flat feet
motor neuron disease and other neurological disorders
neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease
liver, kidney, and thyroid conditions
medications like diuretics and statins
Treatment for Leg Cramps at Night While Sleeping
Leg cramps at night can be treated with some simple remedies. Apart from the calf, a person can develop leg cramps in the feet and even thighs. However leg cramps at night mostly affect the calf muscles.
Night time leg cramps can be easily relieved or prevented with some simple stretching or self-care measures. An increase in age is one factor that triggers leg cramps at night, though the main cause is difficult to state.
In some cases, nocturnal leg cramps may be mistaken for restless legs
syndrome (RLS). However, the pain associated with leg cramps or muscle spasms is absent in RLS. Symptoms of RLS includes intense urge to move your lower limps, throbbing sensation, and pulling, but without the pain. These symptoms primarily occur at night or when at rest. However, muscle pain is less common with
restless legs syndrome than it is with night leg cramps.
To relieve an ongoing leg cramp attack, gently rub the cramped muscle and apply a bit of pressure to aid relaxation. You can also try stretching to relieve a spasm. Gently assume a standing position and let your weight rest on the affected leg, then slightly bend your knee.
In some cases, the pain may be too extreme such that it would hinder you from standing. In this case, you can mildly straighten your
leg and flex the top of your foot in same direction of your head.
How to Stop Leg Cramps at Night While Sleeping
Leg cramps at night can occur suddenly, but there are some ways on how to stop leg cramps at night while sleeping.
Remaining hydrated. Consuming lots of water and other liquids all through the day can prevent dehydration, which can in turn keep your muscles contract and relax more smoothly. It’s vital to drink lots of water before, during, and after workouts to replenish your fluids.
Stretching before bed. This is one of the best ways on how to stop leg cramps at night while sleeping. You can stop leg cramps by doing some stretches before going to bed at night. For people who regularly experience leg cramps at night, stretching before bed may help.
Light exercises. Another ideal way on how to stop leg cramps at night while sleeping is to engage in light workouts. Exercises like riding a stationary bike for about 10-15 minutes before sleep time may help stop leg cramps
Selecting the right shoes. Wearing shoes that have proper support may help prevent leg cramps.
Untucking the covers. One way on how to stop leg cramps at night while sleeping is to untuck your bed covers. Untuck the bed-sheets and other covers at the foot of your bed before sleeping to prevent or stop leg cramps at night.
Applying cold or heat. Another method on how to stop leg cramps at night while sleeping is to directly apply cold or heat to the affected leg to relax the tense muscles. Applying a warm towel or heating pad, or taking a hot bath or shower can help ease the cramps.
If self-care strategies are not providing any form of relief, consult your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe some pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others). Also, ensure you see your doctor immediately if:
Your leg cramps become too frequent such that it affects your sleep at night.
Causes severe pain
Interferes with your sleep
Causes muscle weakness, numbness or inflammation
Muscle pain is recurrent.