We all know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with a cramp in the leg. It feels like someone is grabbing onto each end of the muscle and twisting it into a new shape. Cramps most often occur in the calves, but they can also happen in our feet or thighs.

If you experience leg cramps, you are not alone. 60% of American adults and 7% of children experience them as well. Research suggests that women are more likely to experience leg cramps than men. The older you get, the more likely you are to experience leg cramping. 33% of people over 69 get them and once you are over 80, your risk increases to 50%.

While there is no cure for leg cramps, there are several treatments that can help lessen the frequency and intensity of the cramps. 20% of people who experience leg cramps seek medical treatment for the condition. There is no cure for leg cramps, but there are several treatments that can lessen the frequency and intensity.

Leg Cramp Signs and Symptoms

A leg cramp is an involuntary and sudden contraction of one or more muscles in your leg that can cause severe pain.

The most common location for leg cramps is the calf muscle. However, it is possible to feel cramping and tightening in other locations such as the hamstrings or quadriceps.

The good news is that most leg cramps will resolve on their own within 10 minutes. The bad news is that the pain and soreness from a leg cramp can last for up to 24 hours.

What Causes Leg Cramps at Night?

Restless legs syndrome, varicose veins, and even cellulite. There are a few different health issues that can cause aching legs at night, including nocturnal leg cramping, restless legs syndrome, and varicose veins. Even cellulite can be a contributing factor.

  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS)  
  • Sciatica 
  • Psoriatic arthritis  
  • Shin splints  
  • Arthritis  
  • Multiple sclerosis 
  • Leg injuries  
  • Muscle cramps
  • Growing pains

If you’re experiencing muscle cramps due to dehydration after intense exercise, leg cramps at night may be temporary. However, if you have a chronic condition like restless legs syndrome, these causes may create a vicious cycle, where a bad night’s sleep worsens your pain during the day, leading to even worse sleep the next night—and on and on.

If you experience leg pain at night, you should try changing your sleeping position and bedtime routine. You might also need to change your lifestyle.

5 Tricks for Stopping a Nighttime Leg Cramp in Progress

There are five tricks that can help ease the pain of nocturnal leg cramping so that you can get back to sleep. Nocturnal leg cramping is rarely a sign of a serious medical condition, but that does not make them any easier to tolerate when they happen.

Massage the Affected Area

When we have a muscle that is cramping, we instinctively rub it. It turns out that this instinct works, as moderate massaging of the muscle can help to both relax it and ease discomfort. To help loosen the muscle, gently knead the area that hurts with both hands.

Stretch It Out

Stretching a muscle that is actively cramping can help relieve the pain, just like you stretched before bedtime. If the cramping is in your calf, loop your bedsheet (or a blanket) around your foot and gently stretch your toes in an upward motion.

Perform Lunges

Extend the leg that is not cramping and use the wall for balance if needed.

Walk On Your Heels

This movement helps to relax the calf muscles by stimulating the muscles on the opposite side.

Apply Heat

You can reduce muscle cramps by applying moist heat to the affected area. This can be done with a hot, damp towel, hot water bottle, or heating pad. If the cramping is widespread, soaking in a warm bath can also be helpful.

If you experience soreness in your leg muscles the day after a cramping incident at night, you can take over-the-counter painkillers to help ease the discomfort. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can reduce tenderness and help resolve any inflammation in the affected area. Acetaminophen is another option for pain relief. Be cautious about using these treatments too often, as they can cause other medical problems. If you frequently experience leg cramps, you may want to try an all-natural remedy instead.

How to Prevent Leg Cramps at Night

In order to avoid sleep problems, it is best to follow some of the tips below every night as part of your bedtime routine.

Adjust Your Sleep Position to Manage Leg Pain

Your sleeping position matters when it comes to drifting off with leg pain. Sleeping on your stomach probably isn’t the best idea. Even though it’s not directly connected to leg pain, stomach sleeping can compress your spine and make your neck and back hurt, which can lead to other sleep problems.

If you’re dealing with leg pain, Jordan Duncan, a chiropractor and owner of Silverdale Sport & Spine, recommends sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees. This position takes pressure off of your lower extremities and allows your hip and knee joints to relax.

If you’re looking for a way to reduce knee pain, Dr. Febin Melepura, medical director at Sports and Pain Institute of New York, recommends using a “leg-elevation pillow” instead of a regular pillow.

The Sleep Wedge is approximately 12 inches tall and is made of very rigid foam. This foam allows you to keep your legs raised while sleeping, which prevents the nerves in your legs from being compressed.

Sleeping on your side with your knees slightly bent and holding a body pillow can also help, according to Duncan. The extra support from the body pillow will keep your leg muscles relaxed and in the proper alignment while you sleep.

. If your leg pain is worse on one side than the other, try to keep the painful leg on top when you are lying down to avoid putting extra pressure on it.

Add Stretches to Your Bedtime Routine

Stretching both before bed and right after you wake up can make a world of difference in your lower body pain, says Melepura. He recommends the following exercises for leg pain:

  • standing calf stretch 
  • sitting calf stretch 
  • hamstring stretch 

You can reduce leg pain at night by stretching before you go to sleep. Stretching can also help reduce tension and stiffness that build up overnight.

Before adding any new stretches to your routine, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional, like a physical therapist. They can provide personalized recommendations for stretches that will help with the condition causing your leg pain, and show you how to do them safely.

Soothe Sore Muscles With a Warm Bath or Massage

If you’re hoping to get a good night’s sleep, try taking care of any sore muscles in your calves and thighs.

Before going to bed, you can relax your muscles and reduce RLS symptoms by taking a hot bath with Epsom salt.

A warm bath can help alleviate leg pain from other issues, like overdoing it at the gym. For a bonus, adding a few drops of lavender oil to the water can promote sleep, as lavender oil has been shown to have that effect.

Sit on your bed and rub your legs to encourage blood flow to that area, says Melepura.

While these self-care practices can help you relax, they can also help put your mind and body in the right state for sleep.

Get Exercise During the Day

Regular exercise can have many benefits for people who suffer from chronic leg pain. Studies have shown that it can help reduce the intensity of pain, improve physical function and increase the sufferer’s quality of life. In addition, moderate aerobic exercise (such as taking a brisk walk) can help you get to sleep more quickly and improve the quality of your sleep, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

There is no one perfect type of exercise to relieve leg pain, but lower-impact activities like swimming, walking, yoga, biking, and rowing may be gentler on the body and worth a shot.

If you are new to exercising, start by doing a few minutes each day and gradually increase the time and how hard you work out as your body allows. Eventually, do at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day; that is the amount that has been shown to improve sleep quality.

Natural Solutions to Nighttime Leg Cramps

There are several prescription medications available that have been approved for treating nocturnal leg cramps. However, it’s important to note that these drugs can come with some unwanted side effects. If you’re looking for a more natural solution that may work well for some, consider some of these options.

While there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that apple cider vinegar prevents muscle cramping, many athletes and health gurus swear by it. Apple cider vinegar is rich in potassium, which can help prevent leg cramping. If you want to try it, dissolve 2 teaspoons in a dab of honey and drink it. This concoction is not going to be the best thing you ever tasted, but it may be worth it if it helps reduce your leg cramps. Be sure to use organic, unfiltered brands of apple cider vinegar only. They contain strands of protein, enzymes, and friendly bacteria that provide added health benefits.

Topical pain relievers are great at easing pain. The most effective brands use menthol as the main ingredient because it is effective for mild to moderate muscle strains and pain. A product like Premiere’s Pain Spray Roll-On is ideal if you want to experience the benefits of menthol. Blended with 7 percent menthol, it provides almost immediate relief. The roll-on applicator makes it easy to apply evenly on your skin without wasting any product.

Acupressure is another popular treatment for leg cramps. It is so effective in its treatment of leg and other muscle cramps that healthcare professionals are advised to use it under certain circumstances. You can perform acupressure on yourself, making it an inexpensive natural solution. Here are three spots to press with your fingers: (1) between your upper lip and your nose; (2) at the base of your calf on the leg that is cramping); and (3) on the top of your foot, between your big toe and second toe (on the leg with cramping).

Magnesia Phosphorica, in the form of pellets that dissolve under your tongue, is a homeopathic treatment for leg cramping. Boiron is a reputable source for any homeopathic remedy. The recommended potency is 6X or 30C. Some homeopathic pharmacies carry spray-on versions of Magnesia Phosphorica that can be absorbed through the skin.

Other Ways to Help Stop Leg Pain at Night

Here are some other tips to try:

  • Avoid inflammatory foods. Limit your intake of sugar, saturated fats, gluten, refined carbohydrates, and other ingredients that can increase inflammation in the body and, as a result, lead to more pain.  
  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. By doing so, you can train your body to sleep on schedule. 
  • Don’t lie in bed if you can’t sleep. If you got in bed 20 minutes ago and still can’t sleep, get up and do something mind-numbing (like reading a dull book) until you feel tired. Then, give sleep another try. 
  • Manage stress. Use stress-management techniques, like meditation and progressive muscle relaxation, to keep your worries in perspective at bedtime and drift off more easily. 

A Final Word on Leg Cramping

A healthy lifestyle is a good way to prevent cramps, and quickly resolving them when they occur is your second line of defense.

 

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