Muscle spasms such as leg cramps that occur during the night are known as nocturnal leg cramps.
Nocturnal leg cramps usually cause you to jolt awake from sleep, but they may also occur while you are awake at night during periods of inactivity.
Besides the calf muscles, leg cramps can occur in the thighs or feet. Spasms are quite painful as the affected muscles will feel tight or knotted.
The cramps may last from several seconds to several minutes and although more common in adults over age 50, it can also occur in younger adults and children, regardless of gender.
What causes nocturnal leg cramps?
Multiple studies suggest that muscle fatigue is the primary cause of leg cramps.
For example, a study involving endurance athletes showed that leg cramps occurred when the athletes were involved in higher-than-normal intensity exercise.
As fatigue depletes oxygen, this allows waste products to build up throughout the day and produces cramping and spasms at night.
Not just exercise, over-exertion from sitting for long periods of time, standing or working on concrete floors or sitting improperly can also be contributing factors.
People who are born with a structural abnormality such as flat feet are also more likely to experience muscle cramps.
Sometimes, nocturnal muscle spasms can also be a sign of an underlying medical condition. This includes neurologic conditions such as Parkinson’s or endocrine disorders such as diabetes and hypothyroidism.
An imbalance of the body’s electrolytes either by dehydration or hemodialysis can also be a cause. Certain medications are also known to be associated with nocturnal leg cramps. These include diuretics, statins and beta agonists.
Women who are pregnant are more susceptible to leg and foot cramps at night, particularly in their second and third trimesters.
The possible reasons are increasing weight, dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, particularly in magnesium as well as underlying medical conditions and medications.
Treatment of nocturnal leg cramps
Passive stretching and deep tissue massage are helpful measures that may help when you experience night time leg cramps.
Stretch your muscles first by straightening your leg with the heel flexed and the toes flexed back towards your shins.
Then, massage the area to relax the muscle. You may put a warm compress or pain-relieving cream on the area to soothe it.
Eventually, you should address the possible cause of your leg cramps by drinking plenty of water and trying not to overstrain during the day. It is also a good idea to consult your doctor about your medications.
This article first appeared in hellodoktor.com and was reviewed by the Hello Doktor Medical Panel. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.