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.
Leg pain at night can be very painful, but it is usually not serious. Most people who experience them do not need medical treatment.
You can try the following at home to relieve stomach pain.
Massage your feet. Rubbing the affected muscle can help it relax. Gently massage the muscles with one or both hands to loosen them.
Extend. If the cramp is in your calf, straighten your leg. Bend your legs so that your toes point towards you.
Walk on your heels. This will activate and relax the opposite muscles in your calf.
Use heat. Heat can relax tight muscles. Apply a hot towel, hot water bottle or heating pad to the affected area. A warm bath or shower can also help.
Drink pickled juice. Some evidence suggests that drinking small amounts of pickle juice can help relieve muscle spasms.
Then, if your leg hurts, take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) can help relieve pain after a flare-up. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also work.
If frequent cramps are disrupting your sleep, make an appointment with your doctor. They may prescribe muscle relaxants to prevent swelling. If your cramps are related to another condition, it can help manage that, too.
How to stop leg pain at night
The following tips will help you avoid foot pain while sleeping.
Drink plenty of fluids. Fluid maintains normal muscle function. Depending on factors such as the weather, age, activity level, and medications you are taking, you may need to adjust how much fluid you drink.
Stretch your legs. Stretching your calves and hamstrings before bed can reduce the frequency and intensity of leg pain at night.
Stationary cycling. A few minutes of easy pedaling can help relax your leg muscles before bed.
Change your sleeping position. You should avoid sleeping with your legs down. Try sleeping on your back with a pillow behind your knees.
Avoid heavy or loose bedding. Heavy or tight bedding can push your feet down while you sleep. Choose loose, loose-fitting fabrics and comforters that allow you to keep your feet and toes upright while you sleep.
Choose supportive shoes. The wrong shoes can aggravate nerve and muscle problems in your feet and legs, especially if you have flat feet.
Abnormal nerve activity. Electromyographic studies of leg cramps with increased nerve impulses and abnormal pulses
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