Leg cramps are a common and usually harmless condition where the muscles in your leg suddenly become tight and painful.
Leg cramps are sudden and involuntary contractions of one or more muscles which most commonly appear throughout the night period, while you are sleeping. The cramps cause unbearable pain that awakens you.
The main cause for night leg cramps is prolonged hours of inactivity of your body. At most people, the leg cramps occur in the calf, but still they can cause a lot of pain in the thighs and feet. You simply cannot know how long the pain will last. Sometimes the cramps last just few seconds, while sometimes can last up few minutes.
Sometimes, you may feel soreness in your muscle during the entire night or even the following day after the cramps have passed.
The night leg cramps appear at both men and women and are most likely to appear in people over 50. Still, even younger people experience pain caused by cramps during the night.
It usually occurs in the calf muscles, although it can affect any part of your leg, including your feet and thighs.
After the cramping has passed, you may have pain and tenderness in your leg for several hours.
Three out of four cases occur at night during sleep.
What causes leg cramps?
Leg cramps can occur for no apparent reason, known as idiopathic leg cramps, or as a symptom or complication of a health condition, known as secondary leg cramps.
Although the precise cause for nocturnal leg cramps still isn’t known, there are some potential risk factors, causes or even medical conditions which often lead to them:
Standing or working on concrete floors
Sitting for prolonged periods of time
Diuretics, statins, beta agonists
Over-exertion of the muscles in the leg
Structural disorders like flat feet
Endocrine disorders like diabetes
During a cramp, your muscles suddenly contract (shorten), causing pain in your leg. This is known as a spasm, and you cannot control the affected muscle.
The cramp can last from a few seconds to 10 minutes. When the spasm passes, you will be able to control the affected muscle again.
Preventing leg cramps
If you often get leg cramps, regularly stretching the muscles in your lower legs may help prevent the cramps or reduce their frequency.
You might find it useful to stretch your calves before you go to bed each night (see stretching advice above or try this post-exercise calf stretch).
The following night-time advice may also help:
If you lie on your back, make sure that your toes point upwards – placing a pillow on its side at the end of your bed, with the soles of your feet propped up against it may help keep your feet in the right position. If you lie on your front, hang your feet over the end of the bed – this will keep your feet in a relaxed position and help stop the muscles in your calves from contracting and tensing. Keep your sheets and blankets loose.
Next time you start experiencing cramps, our suggestion is to try this trick: sit on the floor and extend both legs. After that, flex your feet at the ankles and try to point your toes toward your knees. Then, get up and walk around or gently massage the area in which you feel pain. This will provide you a great relief almost instantly!