Nocturnal leg cramps are sudden contractions of the lower leg and foot muscles. They often awaken you from sleep. The calf muscles are most often involved.
The Calf Muscles
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The specific cause of nocturnal leg cramps is unknown. These cramps may be related to imbalances in local muscle chemistry. This can be related to problems with nerves, muscles, or blood supply.
Nocturnal leg cramps are more common in people aged 50 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of nocturnal leg cramps include: Overexertion of musclesProlonged sitting, or standing on hard surfacesPregnancyFlat feet
, or other foot or ankle deformities
Neurological conditions, such as
Certain medications, such as those to treat
high blood pressure
, or psychiatric disorders
Certain medical conditions:
Hormone disorders such as
diabetesDehydrationChemical imbalances in calcium, potassium, magnesium, and others
The main symptom is sudden calf or foot cramps.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. This may include treatment for any underlying causes of the nocturnal leg cramps.
If no specific cause can be found, treatment options include the following: When cramps occur, stretch your leg musclesStanding on the affected leg and walking often stops the crampingMassage and hot or cold treatments help the muscles relax
No medication has proven to treat nocturnal leg cramps. Quinine, while often effective for reducing the frequency and intensity of cramps, has a significant risk of major allergic reactions.
Other medications have may be used in severe cases. These may include: Muscle relaxantsCalcium channel blockersAnticonvulsants
To help reduce your chance of nocturnal leg cramps: Stretch
during the day and just before going to bedExercise feet and legs regularlyDrink plenty of liquidsWear comfortable, supportive shoes
Allen RE, Kirby KA. Nocturnal leg cramps.
Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(4):350-355.
Butler JV, Mulkerrin EC, et al. Nocturnal leg cramps in older people.
Postgrad Med J. 2002;78:596-598.
Garrison SR, et al. The effect of magnesium infusion on rest cramps: Randomized controlled trial.
J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2011;66(6):661-666.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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