Nocturnal Leg Cramps

Last updated: April 5, 2019

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Nocturnal leg cramps, also known as night leg cramps, are spasms that occur in the lower extremities, particularly the legs, during nighttime. These cramps are painful, involuntary and usually short-lived. It is characterized by tight and persistent muscle contraction commonly in the calves. Sometimes it also involves the feet and thighs.

These contractions can last from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, and sometimes even longer. After the muscle cramps stop, soreness may be experienced.

What causes nocturnal leg cramps?

The cause of nocturnal leg cramps is still unknown. No clinical trials present hard proof of what causes this condition. However, in some cases, nocturnal leg cramps have been related to:

  • Oversitting for a long period of time
  • Too much force in the muscles
  • Improper sitting
  • Standing on concrete and rough floors

In addition, several medical conditions and types of medications have also been linked to this abnormal muscle contraction. These includes:

  • Alcoholism
  • Pregnancy
  • Electrolyte imbalance or dehydration
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Neuropathy
  • Myopathy
  • Structural disorders (e.g. flat feet)
  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Beta-agonists, diuretics, and statins

Are nocturnal leg cramps and restless legs syndrome the same?

No. The only similarity is the fact that they both occur at night when a person is in a sleep state. Restless legs syndrome is not associated with cramping and therefore do not cause pain. RLS is more of a tightness – an undesirable tension in the legs that causes restlessness. As a person moves his legs to ease the discomfort, there is a relief. However, once the moving stops, the crawling sensation comes back.

Nocturnal leg cramps, on the other hand, causes moderate to heavy pain. And unlike RLS, the muscle where the contraction is felt should be strongly stretched out to promote alleviation.

Who can acquire these cramps?

Anyone, from a child to an adult, can get this type of leg spasm. However, observations upon this leg disturbance narrate that older adults are often times the ones suffering from nocturnal leg cramps.


Nocturnal leg cramps can be painful and persistent. However, it isn’t, in any way, a serious condition. Most people suffering from it are typically not advised to take any medication. Rather, they are recommended a set of stretching exercises they can do at home.

These are some remedies you can do to treat leg cramps which includes the following:

  • Gently rubbing the leg
  • Stretching the leg out
  • Applying heat compress
  • Walking on your heels
  • Drinking pickle juice

If none of these remedies don’t alleviate the pain, and your leg is still sore, take a dose of a painkiller you can find at the nearest drugstore.

If the cramps are becoming more regular than a time-to-time instance, discuss the matter with your local physician.

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