Leg cramps are the sudden, painful, involuntary tightening of muscles in the legs. Also, it is a muscle spasms or “charley horse.” Leg cramps occur in the calf muscle (gastrocnemius muscle). Calf cramps may occur during the day when you are awake and at night when you are asleep. This condition only lasts for only a few seconds or minutes, but your leg may still feel sore hours after the cramps went away. Most of the time, leg cramps are not dangerous and do not indicate a severe health condition.
Nocturnal leg cramps are very common among adults. The American Family Physician claims that 60 percent of adults in the U.S. experience leg cramps at night. Although leg cramps are normal, it can disrupt your sleep and interfere with your daily activities, such as working out. Despite the modern technology in medicine, there are still no known medicines or injections for cramps. However, it is good that home remedies can alleviate the pain during and after a leg cramp attacks at night. When a cramp occurs, the quickest solution is to stretch the muscle forcefully to relax. You can try jiggling or massaging your leg. Applying ice or heat is also an option. You can take a warm bath or use a heating pad on the sore area.
This article lists the common causes of leg cramps at night.
1. Sedentary lifestyle
Nocturnal leg cramps happen at night when you are asleep and barely moving. Movement and stretches are essential for the muscles to function efficiently. If you suffer from nocturnal leg cramps often, you can try to do simple body stretches regularly. You should also avoid staying seated for very long periods as it also makes the leg muscles prone to cramping.
2. Muscle overexertion
Muscle overuse is among the most common causes of leg cramps. While muscles need to stretch, overworking the muscles by too much exercise or activity can cause cramps. Standing for long hours during the day can also trigger nocturnal leg cramps.
3. Age and sex
Nocturnal leg cramps can occur to anyone, both young and old. Studies reveal, however, that older people are more susceptible to nocturnal leg cramps. It is due to the shortening of tendons, your tissues that link the muscles and bones. Tendons naturally shorten over time as people age. Once in two months, 33 percent of adults 60 years of age can experience a leg cramp at night. Women are also more prone to getting calf cramps at night.
4. Health conditions
Idiopathic leg cramps or cramps that occur for no specific reason are the common cramps that people experience. Secondary leg cramps may indicate a more serious health condition. The possible causes of idiopathic leg cramps include stress, blood supply restriction, and involuntary nerve discharges. Secondary leg cramps can start from motor neuron disease, peripheral neuropathy, flat feet, Parkinson’s disease, musculoskeletal disorders, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular conditions, and liver, kidney, and thyroid conditions.
Pregnancy is one of the most known causes of leg cramps. Pregnant women are prone to cramps during the day and at night. Research suggests that leg cramps at night are common for pregnant women. Muscle straining due to the extra weight that comes with pregnancy is why most pregnant women are susceptible to cramps.
One’s foot position while sleeping is one of the causes of leg cramps at night. Plantar flexion is the feet and toes’ position where it extends away from the rest of the body. People commonly sleep in this position at night. Also, Plantar flexion can cause calf muscle shortening, which makes the calf prone to cramping. Besides your sleeping position, improper sitting position during the day may also contribute to nocturnal leg cramps. Sitting with the legs crossed will also prompt the calf muscles to shorten, which will bring about leg cramps.
7. Abnormal nerve activity
Research on electromyography claims that leg cramps are abnormal and increased nerve firing. Abnormal nerve activity may come from a damaged muscle or a muscle that has lost nerve input.