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Causes of Legs Cramps at Night & Its Treatment and Prevention

About Legs Cramps at Night

Leg cramps are the spasm in the involuntary muscles that can occur anywhere in the legs most commonly in the calf muscle. Leg cramps at night are also known as nocturnal leg cramps, which mostly occur in the gastrocnemius muscle (calf muscle) that spans the back of the leg from the ankle to the knee. They can also affect the muscles at the front (quadriceps) and the back (hamstrings) of each thigh.

A person can be awake or asleep when a leg cramps strikes. The muscles relax in most in less than 10 minutes. The leg might feel sore for a day or two after the night of the cramp.

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Leg cramps mostly occur at night and are more common in females and older adults. A study done in 2017 found that 30% of adults report night leg cramps at least 5 times in a day.(1)

Nocturnal leg cramps can lead to other health issues such as waking a person up at the night and breaking the sleep cycle. This can make him feel tired and lethargic. It can make a person difficult to fall asleep and lead to insomnia.

Causes and Risk Factors for Leg Cramps at Night

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There are a few causes and risk factors that make a person more likely to suffer from leg cramps at night.

  1. Tired Muscles

    Muscle fatigue can be a primary cause of leg cramps.(2) Athletes are more likely to suffer from leg cramps after a day of high physical activity. Also over-exercising the muscles intensely for a long time may make the occurrence of leg cramps more likely later in the day.

  2. Inactivity During The Day

    Sitting for an extended period of time such as doing a desk job may cause the muscle to shorten over time.(3)

    Being physically inactive makes a person not use his muscles for a long period of time, thereby increasing the risk of cramps. The cramps occur most commonly at night in the bed.

    Those who do not exercise, are more at risk of getting cramps or muscle spasms.

  3. Body Position

    Sitting or lying down in a certain way, restricts the movement of blood flow to the legs. This may also lead to cramps.

  4. Age

    Elderly people are more likely to have leg cramps at night. Research shows that around 37% of people over the age of 60 years get nocturnal leg cramps.

  5. Pregnancy

    There is a link between nocturnal leg cramps and pregnancy.(2) It may be due to an increase in the nutritional demands and changes in the level of hormones.

  6. Medicinal Side Effects

    Muscle cramping may be a side effect of many medications and a few are linked just with the leg cramps.

  7. Medical Conditions

    There are a few chronic medical conditions that may put a person at risk of chronic leg cramps.(4) These conditions include:

Treatment of Leg Cramps at Night or Nocturnal Leg Cramps

Immediate relief from the night time leg cramp is necessary to help the person get the required rest. There are a few things that can be done at home to give relief at the moment. These include:

  • Gently stretching out the muscle
  • Massaging the area with the hand
  • Applying heat to the area
  • Flexing and unflexing the foot
  • A foam roller can also be used to massage the area

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may give relief from the pain momentarily but would not give relief from the leg cramp. Sometimes doctors prescribe medications to treat cramps, though the evidence supporting their effectiveness is minimum.

How to Prevent Leg Cramps at Night or Nocturnal Leg Cramps?

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Night time Leg cramps can be prevented in the following ways:

  • Being Physically Active: Doing mild exercises such as walking, yoga or spending some time on a stationary bike before bedtime can be helpful in preventing muscle cramping at night.
  • Drinking Plenty of Water: Fluids play the role of transferring nutrients and waste to and from the muscles. Drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day can be helpful in preventing cramps in the muscle at night.
  • Changing Shoes: People notice lesser cramps when they wear more supportive shoes.

Experiencing leg cramps at night is common and not of much concern. There are simple home remedies that can be helpful in relieving these tense muscles. Anyone who experiences leg cramps frequently can consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

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