What are nocturnal (nighttime) leg cramps? — Nighttime leg cramps cause pain and sudden muscle tightness in the legs, feet, or both. The cramps can wake you up from sleep. They can last for many minutes or just a few seconds.
Nighttime leg cramps are common in both adults and children. But as people get older, they are more likely to get them. About half of people older than 50 get nighttime leg cramps.
What causes nighttime leg cramps? — Most nighttime leg cramps do not have a cause that doctors can find. When doctors do find causes, the causes can include:
Having a leg or foot structure that is different from normal – For example, having flat feet or a knee that bends in the wrong direction
Sitting in an awkward position or sitting too long in one position
Standing or walking a lot on concrete floors
Changes in your body's fluid balance – This can happen if you:
•Take medicines called diuretics (also called "water pills")
•Are on dialysis (a kind of treatment for kidney disease)
•Sweat too much
Having certain conditions – For example, Parkinson disease, diabetes, or low thyroid
Being pregnant – Some pregnant women do not have enough of the mineral magnesium in their blood. This can cause leg cramps.
Taking certain medicines
Is there anything I can do on my own to feel better? — Yes. Things you can try include:
Riding a stationary bike for a few minutes before bed – If you normally get little exercise, this might help.
Doing stretching exercises (picture 1)
Wearing shoes with firm support, especially at the back of your foot around your heel
Keeping bed covers loose at the foot of your bed and not tucked in
Drinking plenty of water, especially if you take diuretics. (Do this only if your doctor or nurse has not told you to limit the amount of water you drink.)
Limiting the amount of alcohol and caffeine you drink
Staying cool when you exercise, and not exercising in very hot weather or hot rooms
If you get a cramp, slowly stretch the cramped muscle. To prevent more cramps, you can try:
Walking around or jiggling your leg or foot
Lying down with your legs and feet up
Taking a hot shower with water spraying on the cramp for 5 minutes, or taking a warm bath
Rubbing the cramp with ice wrapped in a towel
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — See a doctor or nurse if:
You wake up several times a night with leg cramps
Your cramps keep you from getting enough sleep
Your cramps are very painful
You have cramps in other parts of your body, such as your upper back or belly
Are there tests I should have? — Probably not. Your doctor or nurse will talk with you about your symptoms and do an exam to find out what could be causing your nighttime leg cramps. Depending on your symptoms and exam, you might also need some blood tests.
How are nighttime leg cramps treated? — Treatment is different for everyone. Most people have to try a few different things before they find a treatment that helps them.
Treatment options include:
Making lifestyle changes – For example, exercising differently, doing stretching exercises, wearing shoes with good support, or drinking enough fluids
Taking supplements – Supplements are pills, capsules, liquids, or tablets with minerals or vitamins your body needs. Tell your doctor or nurse about any minerals, vitamins, or herbal medicines you already take.
Stopping any medicines you take that could cause cramps. But do not stop taking any medicine unless your doctor or nurse says it is OK.
Medicines - Taking prescription medicines that improve sleep, relax muscles, calm overactive nerves, or help in other ways. Doctors and nurses prescribe medicines for nocturnal leg cramps only when other types of treatment do not work.
What if my child gets nocturnal leg cramps? — Nocturnal leg cramps are common in children. Talk to your child's doctor or nurse if your child:
Has leg cramps often
Cannot sleep well because of leg cramps
Nocturnal leg cramps can run in families. Tell your doctor or nurse if someone else in your family also has nocturnal leg cramps.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 17181 Version 5.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.