by Polsdorfer R

Nocturnal Leg Cramps

(Muscle Cramps; Nocturnal Muscles Cramps; Age-Related Cramps)

Definition

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 Calf Muscles
Nucleus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

The specific cause of nocturnal leg cramps is unknown. These cramps may be related to imbalances in local muscle chemistry. Many activities and diseases are associated with nocturnal leg cramps including:
  • Overexertion of the muscles
  • Prolonged standing on hard surfaces
  • Prolonged sitting
  • Dehydration
  • Diseases:
  • Certain medications:
    • Blood pressure medications
    • Statins taken to lower cholesterol
    • Morphine
    • Lithium

Risk Factors

Those over 50 are at increased risk for leg cramps. The following factors also increase your chance of developing nocturnal leg cramps:

Symptoms

The main symptom is sudden calf or foot cramps.

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.

Treatment

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, stretch your leg muscles.
  • Standing on the affected leg and walking often stops the cramping.
  • Massage and hot or cold treatments help the muscles relax.

Medications

No medication has proven to treat nocturnal leg cramps. Quinine, while often effective for reducing the frequency and intensity of cramps, has a significant risk of major allergic reactions. The other prescription medications carry risks as well. So, they are not generally recommended. They may be used in severe cases.
Prescription
  • Quinine sulfate
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Anticonvulsants

Prevention

To reduce your chance of getting nocturnal leg cramps, take the following steps:
  • Stretch during the day and just before going to bed.
  • Exercise feet and legs regularly.
  • Drink plenty of liquids.
  • Wear comfortable, supportive shoes.

RESOURCES

American Academy of Family Physicians http://www.familydoctor.org

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://www.orthoinfo.aaos.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

The College of Family Physicians of Canada http://www.cfpc.ca

Women's Health Matters http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

References

Allen RE, Kirby KA. Nocturnal leg cramps. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Aug 15;86(4):350-5.

Butler JV, Mulkerrin EC, et al. Nocturnal leg cramps in older people. Postgrad Med J. 2002;78:596-598.

Garrison SR, et al. The effect of magnesium infusion on rest cramps: randomized controlled trial. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2011;66(6):661-666.

Nocturnal leg cramps. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 7, 2013. Accessed December 16, 2013.

2/11/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: El-Tawil S, Musa T, et al. Quinine for muscle cramps. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(12):CD005044.

Revision Information

Health Library Search

Only show results from the selected categories.











Medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is exercise-related pain in the shins. It may be caused by an irritation of the tendons and muscles near the shin bones. MTSS is comm...

Chronic neck pain is pain in the neck over a long period of time. It usually lasts more than three months. The pain can range from mild to severe....

Heterotopic ossification (HO) is the growth of bone in abnormal places like soft tissue. It can occur anywhere in the body. The hip, knees, shoulders and elbows are the m...

At the end of the day, do your feet ache, pinch, or burn? Here's what you need to know to give your aching feet a break....

6 Get Back in the Game after Plantar Fasciitis lifestyle - sports & fitness

Pain in your heels does not have to keep you off your feet. The most common cause of heel pain is both avoidable and correctable....

7 Contractures condition

Contractures refer to the permanent tightening of nonbony tissues, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, or skin. It results in a loss of motion in the affected joints. C...

Dupuytrens contracture is a thickening and shortening of the fascia in the palm of the hand. The fascia is a firm tissue that lies just below the skin. This condition cau...

The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue attached to the heel bone. It supports the arch of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of this plantar fascia. It ca...

10 Rhabdomyolysis condition

Rhabdomyolysis occurs when skeletal muscles are damaged and release myoglobin into the bloodstream. Myoglobin is an iron-containing pigment that can cause severe damage t...