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What Are Night Leg Cramps?

Posted On February 13, 2014
February 13, 2014

Ever get a charley horse in the middle of the night in your calf? It hurts! The pain can be excruciating and wake you up from sound sleep or even be bothersome at night while you are actually awake. Hence, these involuntary pains are collectively known as night leg cramps (or nocturnal leg cramps).

Where Exactly Do Night Leg Cramps Occur?

Although the target of the pain is often in one’s calf muscle, night leg cramps can occur in a person’s foot or thigh. People who suffer with this type of pain often describe the cramp as feeling knotted or a tight contraction of the effected muscle, lasting from seconds to minutes. And even though the initial cramp went away, there is often residual muscle soreness as a result.

No one is immune to night leg cramps. In fact, statistics clock incidence at 60% in adults. Young and old, and women and men can all feel the pain in their lower appendages during the course of the night. And yet, incidence does increase as we age. Unfortunately, the actual cause of this condition is not known but some possibilities are the following:

  • Not sitting properly and for long time periods
  • Standing or working on hard floors like concrete and marble
  • Flat feet
  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
  • Diabetes and hypothyroidism
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Medications such as diuretics and statins used to lower blood pressure

When Should You Seek Out Treatment?

Like with any other condition or disease, make an appointment with your physician when your night leg cramps increase in frequency and severity and thus impact your quality of life. You will want to have your doctor order tests to rule out serious illnesses.

At any rate, there are some tips to help decrease and prevent night leg cramps. Here are just a few:

  • Before your head hits the pillow, gently stretch the muscles of your leg.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking 48 to 64 ounces of water a day.
  • During the day, wear shoes that properly fit your feet.
  • Supplements such as Vitamin E or B complex, and magnesium can provide some benefit.

In the past, quinine was used for treatment but with its adverse effect potential, its use is no longer recommended.

If despite these tricks you still experience a night leg cramp or two, there are some hints of what you can try to lessen the pain and ultimately make it go away:

  • Massage or jiggle your leg.
  • Get up and walk the painful cramp off.
  • Try a warm shower or bath.
  • Apply ice to the affected area.

Is Restless Leg Syndrome the Same Disease?

Although both conditions occur during sleep and at night, only night leg cramps cause actual pain. Instead restless leg syndrome is more of a crawling sensation with the accompanying and irresistible urge to move.

If you believe that you might have night leg cramps or other sleep issues, and would like to discover your best treatment option, please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 or schedule a free consultation.

About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Communications for Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America, manages all content and communications for the company.
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