What causes leg and calf cramps at night?
Imagine that you are lying down, and your lower leg is crawling. The pain is so intense that it makes you want to scream. It doesn’t give up and it’s hard to reach the muscles. When you try to move your legs, you feel paralyzed. Sound familiar?
According to American Family Physicians, leg pain at night affects up to 60 percent of adults. Sometimes called a muscle cramp or charley horse, it occurs when one or more muscles in the leg tighten involuntarily.
Leg cramps usually affect the gastrocnemius (calf) muscles that cover the back of each leg from the ankle to the knee. However, they can affect the muscles in the front of each thigh (quadriceps) and the muscles in the back of each thigh (hamstrings).
You may be awake or asleep during leg cramps. In most cases, the muscle relaxes in less than 10 minutes. Your feet may be sore and tender after a day. Frequent calf cramps at night can disrupt your sleep.
Leg pain during sleep is more common in women and the elderly.
Causes leg pain at night
Experts do not know exactly why the legs drag at night. However, there are known factors that increase your risk. In most cases, leg swelling at night is idiopathic, which means that their exact cause is unknown.
Leg pain at night can be related to the position of the feet. We usually sleep with our feet and toes tucked away from the rest of our body, a position known as flexed feet. This shortens the calf muscles and makes them more susceptible to pulling.
Other factors that can contribute to leg pain at night include:
Sedentary lifestyle. Muscles need to be stretched regularly to function properly. Sitting for long periods of time makes the leg muscles more susceptible to pulling.
Muscle overload. Excessive exercise can cause overworked muscles and can be associated with muscle spasms.
Incorrect sitting position. Sitting cross-legged for long periods of time shortens the calf muscles, which can lead to cramps.
Stop for a long time. Studies have shown that people who stand for long periods of time at work are more likely to experience leg pain at night.
Abnormal nerve activity. Electromyographic studies have shown that leg cramps are associated with increased nerve impulses and abnormal impulses.
Shortening of tendons. Ligaments that connect muscles and bones naturally shorten over time. This leads to muscle stiffness.
Leg pain at night is not the first symptom of a more serious disease. However, they are associated with the following conditions.
structural problems such as flat feet or spinal stenosis
neurological disorders such as motor neuron disease or peripheral neuropathy
Neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease
musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis
liver, kidney and thyroid disorders
metabolic disorders such as diabetes
Cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and peripheral vascular disease