What Causes Leg Cramps at Night?

By December 7, 2016health
hand holding leg in pain

Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night to the kind of pain that makes you jump out of bed and scream? If so, you’ve likely experienced a late-night leg cramp.

Night-time leg cramps are defined as sudden spasms (i.e. tightening) of muscles in your calf. The muscle cramps can sometimes happen in the thigh or the foot, and they happen most often when you’re falling asleep or just waking up in the morning.

What causes leg cramps at night?

Muscle cramps can be caused by a number of things. These include:

  • Exercising too much, injury, or overusing your muscles.
  • Cramps happen more often in pregnant women. This could be because of depleted amounts of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, especially in the later months of pregnancy.
  • Being outside in cold temperatures for long periods of time and/or being exposed to extremely cold water.
  • Other underlying health problems, like peripheral arterial disease, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and multiple sclerosis, all of which cause blood flow problems.
  • Standing too long on hard surfaces, sitting for too long, and keeping your legs in uncomfortable positions while you’re sleeping.
  • A lack of potassium, calcium, and other minerals in your blood can cause leg cramps.
  • Dehydration – not getting enough fluids or your body is losing too much fluid.
  • Certain medicines, like antipsychotics, birth control pills, diuretics, statins and steroids, can cause leg cramps.

How do you stop a leg cramp when it happens?

There are lots of different things you can try to cope with a leg cramp. Sometimes, you’ll have to try more than one thing to make the pain go away. Here are some tips for dealing with leg cramps:  

  • Stretch and massage the muscle.
  • Relax the muscle by taking a warm shower or bath, or try using a heating pad on the affected muscle.
  • Conversely, you can try an ice pack or cold pack on the muscle, but be sure to put a cloth or other piece of fabric between the ice pack and your skin.
  • You can take drug store pain medication, like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
  • Sometimes, if your leg cramps are severe enough, your doctor might prescribe a medication to help with the cramping. If you have a prescription medicine for leg cramps, take it exactly as prescribed.
  • You should try drinking more fluids if you are getting leg cramps. Sports drinks, like Gatorade and Powerade, are known to help.

How do you prevent leg cramps from coming back?

Here are some tips for keeping those painful leg cramps away:

  • Limit or avoid alcohol consumption.
  • Eat a healthy diet that’s rich in calcium, potassium and magnesium. Those food include bananas, beans, green, leafy vegetables, lean seafood and some fruits.
  • Try going on a bicycle ride or using a stationary bike to help your muscles.
  • Stretch your muscles daily, especially after you exercise and before you go to bed.
  • Try taking a multivitamin every day.