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Nocturnal Leg Cramps


Nocturnal (or nighttime) leg cramps are common in the general population. While they sometimes cause sharp pain and discomfort, nocturnal leg cramps are usually harmless. They can, however, affect sleep as they can cause a person to wake up during the night.

Causes and triggers

Almost everyone experiences nocturnal leg cramps, and their frequency increases with age. Certain factors can increase your risk of suffering from them:

  • Dehydration
  • Being inactive
  • Frequent standing or walking on very hard surfaces such as concrete
  • Prolonged sitting in an awkward position or sitting too long in one position
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Use of stimulants (e.g., caffeine)
  • Certain medications
  • Certain medical conditions

Treatment

Several techniques and treatments are recommended to relieve and prevent nocturnal leg cramps. Their effectiveness, however, remains somewhat unproven. Below are maneuvers that may help relieve leg cramps when they occur:

  • Gently stretch the sore muscle
  • Lie on your back with your legs up
  • Walk or jiggle the legs or feet
  • Apply heat or ice on the sore area

Prevention

Medication is rarely recommended to prevent nocturnal leg cramps. Here are a few tips to help prevent them from appearing:

  • Gently stretch before bed, and do so regularly
  • Stay hydrated, drink plenty of water regularly throughout the day
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit your intake of alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine
  • Wear supportive footwear
  • Exercise regularly
  • Take certain vitamin supplements and minerals

When should I see a healthcare professional?

See a healthcare professional if the cramps:

  • Wake you up several times a night
  • Keep you from getting enough sleep
  • Are very painful
  • Occur elsewhere than your legs (e.g., lower back or belly)
  • Cause muscle weakness

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