Reasons Why Your Legs Cramp up at Night and How to Fix It
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Do you ever get leg cramps at night, otherwise known as nocturnal leg cramps? They’re often accompanied by pains that occur before and during sleep. They can cause a person to wake up usually as a result of prolonged hours of inactivity. Nocturnal leg cramps commonly occur in the calf but can also cause pain in the thighs and feet.
Pain due to leg cramps at night can last for mere seconds or for several minutes. The length of time varies from person to person. After the leg cramp passes, muscle soreness often lingers (sometimes for a little bit and other times into the following day). They don’t discriminate either… Both men and women can experience leg cramps, more commonly in adults over the age of 50.
How Leg Cramps at Night Are Different from Restless Leg Syndrome
Both nocturnal leg cramps and restless leg syndrome (RLS) occur during sleeping hours but that is the only similarity between the two conditions. There are many differences between leg cramps at night and restless leg syndrome, including:
- RLS does not cause pain or cramping, while nocturnal leg cramps do.
- RLS is more of a discomfort or crawling feeling in your legs.
- RLS causes the desire to move the legs, while nocturnal leg cramps often prevent movement.
- Moving the leg in RLS offers relief, while trying to move during a nocturnal leg cramps does not help. (Instead, try stretching it out.)
Leg Cramps at Night: Causes and Risk Factors
The exact cause of nocturnal leg cramps is often unknown, but potential causes and risk factors of nightly leg cramps include:
- Sitting for prolonged periods of time
- Over-exertion of the muscles in the leg
- Standing or working on concrete floors
- Sitting improperly
Medical conditions, too, can contribute to nocturnal leg cramps, such as:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Magnesium deficiency
- Neuromuscular disorders
- Structural disorders like flat feet
- Endocrine disorders like diabetes
- Diuretics, statins, beta agonists
Treatment and Prevention for Nocturnal Leg Cramps
Treatment for nocturnal leg cramps depend on the cause. For example, if the cause of your nocturnal leg cramps is due to dehydration, make sure you start regularly drinking sufficient amounts of water. To help treat and prevent nocturnal leg cramps, try:
- Using horse chestnut, which has been shown to increase blood flow to the legs
- Applying topical magnesium oil before bedtime for pain relief
- Taking a relaxing, warm bath prior to sleep to ease any muscle tightness
- Applying a heating pad to the affected area
- Trying acupuncture treatment to loosen tight leg muscles
- Ensuring you are not deficient in magnesium or potassium (deficiencies in both minerals are linked to muscle cramping)
- Stretching your legs prior to bed
- Make homemade bone broth
- Partaking in water exercises to build leg muscles
- Wearing ergonomic shoes and avoid high heels
5 Things You Can Do When Cramps Occur
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When a nocturnal muscle cramp strikes it can nearly leave you paralyzed. Knowing how to properly handle an attack will offer you relief and leave you less sore afterwards. Here are some tips to better handle nocturnal leg cramps.
- While sitting on the floor extend both legs out in front of you. Now flex your feet at the ankles and point your toes toward your knees – you may want to tug on your feet to offer an even better stretch.
- Get up slowly and walk around a bit – shaking your legs can also improve blood flow.
- Gently massage the area in a circular motion.
- Ensure blankets and sheets are not tight enough to make the leg muscle contract.
- Take a tablespoon of yellow mustard to relieve discomfort.
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