Nocturnal Leg Cramps
(Muscle Cramps; Nocturnal Muscles Cramps; Age-Related Cramps)
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 cramps are harmless. They do not mean that you have a serious disease.
The Calf Muscles
Although the specific cause is unknown, these cramps may be related to imbalances in local muscle chemistry. Many activities and diseases are associated with nocturnal leg cramps:
- Overexertion of the muscles
- Standing on hard surfaces
- Prolonged sitting
- Certain leg positions while sedentary
- Certain medications
The following factors increase your chance of developing nocturnal leg cramps:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include the following:
- Blood tests—for hormone or chemical imbalances (most tests are normal)
- Checking your foot pulses to assure good circulation
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. If no specific cause can be found, treatment options include the following:
- When cramps occur, pull against them with your leg muscles. Also, grab your foot (feet) and pull up.
- Standing on the affected leg often stops the cramping.
- Massage and hot or cold treatments will help the muscles relax.
None of these medicines has earned full approval for either safety or efficacy. Quinine]]> , while often effective to prevent cramps, has a significant risk of major allergic reactions. The other prescription medications carry risks as well. So they are not generally recommended. They are most often used in only severe cases.
- ]]>Diphenhydramine hydrochloride]]> (Benadryl)
- Vitamin E 800 U/day
To reduce your chance of getting nocturnal leg cramps, take the following steps:
three times a day and just before going to bed.
- Face a wall and put your hands on the wall and keep them there. Step backward. Keep your knees locked. Keep your heels on the floor until you feel a strong pull in your calves. Hold that position for 10 seconds. Repeat two or three times.
- Exercise feet and legs regularly.
- Drink plenty of liquids.
- Eat plenty of potassium-rich foods. This includes bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, oranges, and grapefruit.
- Wear comfortable, supportive shoes.
- Sleep with toes up, not pointed downward.
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Butler JV, Mulkerrin EC, O’Keeffe ST. Nocturnal leg cramps in older people. Postgrad Med J . 2002;78:596-598.
Leg cramps–unknown cause. Prodigy Knowledge, British National Health Service website. Available at: http://www.prodigy.nhs.uk/guidance.asp?gt=Leg%20cramps . Accessed September 14, 2005.
Leg disorders (restless legs syndrome and nocturnal cramps). New York Methodist Hospital website. Available at: http://www.nym.org/healthinfo/docs/095/doc95full.html . Accessed September 14, 2005.
Nocturnal leg cramps. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://dynaweb.ebscohost.com . Accessed June 8, 2008.
Pharmacologic management of nocturnal leg muscle cramps. Virtual Hospital, The University of Iowa website. Available at: http://www.vh.org/adult/provider/pharmacyservices/PTNews/1996/06.96.html . Accessed September 14, 2005.
Last reviewed January 2009 by ]]>Robert Leach, 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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