August 2nd, 2011
12:19 PM ET
Get Some Sleep: Avoid frequent leg cramping
Lisa Shives, M.D., is the founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. She blogs regularly on The Chart. Read more from her at Dr. Lisa Shives’ Sleep Better Blog.
It is frustrating, to both patients and doctors, that modern medical science often lacks understanding of or treatment for common, everyday ailments.
One such ailment, leg cramps, is very common and yet poorly understood. It often plagues people at night, and therefore “sleep-related leg cramps” is recognized as a bona fide sleep disorder by the International Classification of Sleep Disorders.
Most people have had a “charley horse” and know that leg cramps can be quite painful. Leg cramps result from the sudden, intense and involuntary contraction of a muscle or muscle group. They usually occur in the calf muscle or the small muscles of the feet.
The painful sensation is usually relieved by strenuous stretching of the affected muscle. Often, people jump out of bed in their attempt to stop the searing pain. Both the prevalence and frequency increase as people age. There is research showing that approximately one-third of all people over the age of 60 and one-half of those over the age of 80 reported having sleep-related leg cramps once in the previous two months. Six percent of adults over the age of 60 have reported having leg cramps that disturb them every night.
Leg cramps are sometimes confused with restless legs syndrome (now known as Willis-Ekbom disease), but the two disorders are quite different, although patients can have both problems.
RLS is not commonly described as a sudden, intense pain. Also, people who suffer from RLS usually have a steady, uncomfortable feeling in the legs that lasts for hours, and this maddening feeling is only temporarily relieved for a few minutes while they move or rub their legs.
There are some medical conditions that seem to predispose people to leg cramps such as diabetes, peripheral vascular disease and neuromuscular disorders. Medications such as oral contraceptives have been associated with leg cramps. They occur in approximately 40% of pregnant women and usually resolve after birth.
If leg cramping is frequent and intense, people should not assume that they have benign, idiopathic (of unknown cause) leg cramps. It is advised to consult a physician in order to differentiate leg cramps from more serious medical conditions such as akathisia, myelopathy, peripheral neuropathy and disorders of calcium imbalance.
There are numerous theories about the cause of leg cramps but little evidence supporting the veracity of any given theory. One common notion is that they result from dehydration, but the little research done does not support this.
Also common is the idea that there is a relative electrolyte imbalance. Magnesium and potassium are popular culprits. Again, there is little research on this. One study attempted to treat leg cramps in a group of pregnant women and found that magnesium was no better than a placebo.
The same is true for potassium deficiency; there is no research showing that low potassium causes leg cramps or that taking extra potassium prevents them. That said, I have patients who swear that a banana before bed takes care of the leg cramping problem. I also know people who report that sitting in a bath of Epsom salts right before bed helps ward off nocturnal leg cramps.
I have patients who think that the leg cramps come upon them only when they exercise strenuously, and then there are those who associate the cramps with lack of exercise. The best theory is the “squatting hypothesis,” which speculates that leg cramping is associated with the modern habit of sitting on chairs and on the toilet instead of squatting as our forebears would have done.
I believe that is just another way of saying that leg cramps could be caused by a lack of strengthening and stretching of the calf and feet muscles.
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Ionic magnesium once a day and a capsule twice a day of CO Q10 seems to have solved my almost nightly occurance of leg cramps. My sleep pattern is greatly improved.
Magnesium Citrate, (easiest to digest), in some milk. Vitamin B12, 5000 mcg. Avoid a lot of tea, hot and iced. Drink water. In combination works wonders. I work hard outside in a physically demanding job and if I don't do the supplements, the cramps get me at night. Combo works like a miracle.
B12 definitely helps in improving blood circulation.
For me leg cramps seem to be caused by tight muscles, particularly in the lower back. I can get leg cramp relief by massaging lower back! I wonder if a high proportion of those with tendency for leg cramps, also tend to have tight muscles. I've never come close to touching my toes. Somatic exercise seems helpful.
I asked my Doctor about my nightly leg cramps and he said that most people that have leg cramps need electrolytes. He suggested I drink a sports drink with electrolytes. I've been drinking G-2 and only if I go a few days without it do I get leg cramps. I'm thankful he didn't give me a prescription as mnay M.D.'s would.
I can also suggest a glass of Rooibos (Redbush) tea every day. This gives you an easily assimilated dose of magnesium and helps for leg cramps as well (if it is caused by a deficiency of magnesium at least).
I notice leg/foot cramps at night mostly, in the winter or with an open window in the spring or fall, especially when my legs/feet escape the blanket. Walking or standing on tiip-toes helps me as well.
Applying ice seems to always do the majic in a matter of seconds. It works out for me !
iI have found that the use of statins cause my leg cramps. I went from Lipitor to two other generic statins. with pravastatin, I had leg cramps five to six times a night. After a month's use, I started to get stiff. Doctors were not that interested in helping even though the cramps were very painful. I'm back on a very reduced dose of o Liirpitor and nowwonder if I even need that. Hope this helps
Ask your Dr about Rhabdomyolysis. My mother had this caused by a cholesterol drug, and symptoms were muscle soreness and stiffness; became very serious.
to any one exp leg pain cramps I am not an MD but understand med is the culpit since I feel I am a G/pig and have been fed all types of med's in the last 75 years. As I take & stop the med I realize doctor's are still practicing on us and most of the time we are better off with out some or most of the scripts. Med is a business , its all about $$$. Statins are very common. mixtures and narc's as well.this should be adressed by the med field as well. this is a direct cause of leg mafunctions an cramps when you lay down an try to sleep or are awakened.
I get relief by taking a magnesium cap before bed or drink "Calm" mixed with warm water, which is a magnesium-rich drink. Extra calcium is also good in relaxing muscles.
Just before I was Hospitalized wish a chest virus and asthma I was having these intense foot and leg cramps. Lab results demonstrated my sodium was 108, very close to siezure and with many other abnormal lab results, even elevated cardiac enzymes with no evidence of cardiac insult. When I was released I no longer was having foot/legcramps, my sodium level was 133 and soon was a normal 135. I had been taking HZTZ for systolic hypertension. I will NEVER take this medicine again even though they prescribed it for me AGAIN! when I was discharged from Hospital, it is a very dangerous drug even when taken as prescribed. I have had no more foot/leg cramps.
I have leg cramps every nite 3-4 a nite, tried all that one has written with little or no relief, I used to take quinine for this disorder and that helped ever since this is off the market if I sleep 3 hrs a nite I'm doing great!
Heard drinking glass of tonic water before bed every night helps prevent leg cramps. Not just occasionally, but drinking it on a regular schedule.
Red onion shell, boil 10-15 min on low heat. Use as a cold drink or as a tea.
I sleep with a bar or 2 of soap next to my legs. I no longer get leg cramps.
I heard about this as well and tried it. Didn't work.
Once every few nights, I'll wake up for like 2 seconds in the process of stretching my legs. While I do this, my calf immediately cramps up and immediately flex my foot. Not much of a problem for me, but definitely noticeable.
To tbag, I get the same relief using the same materials. I at times use butter and hand sanitizer. It makes me feel nice.
Pinch your bottom lip while having the cramp. This will cause the cramp to ease and the pain is more bearable. I read
this in a magazine and it work like wonders.
exercise was not mentioned. weird!?
There was a time I would get the cramps after strenous exercising or over indulging with too much wine. I am suggesting that their is a loss of water through excessive sweating, thus losing the salt, calcium, and magnesium content which needs to be replaced. I read an article, approximately 4-5 years ago that recommended taking calcium (173 mg) and magnesium (100 mg) tablets combined into one tablet. I now take a tablet every night before going to bed and I have reduced the cramps considerably, down to perhaps two or three cramps per year. The cramps appeared after recognizing that I have forgotten to take my tablet or two after a strenous day of exercise.
Dehydration sometimes can cause leg cramps. Drink plenty of water.
I had foot cramps two or three times a night which would keep me awake and were quite painful. Someone suggested I take 100 to 200 mg CoQ10. I tried it and it works. As long as I take one dose a day (100 works for me) I've not had the problem. Once I stopped taking it to see if the cramping would reoccur. In three days it was back again. As long as I take CoQ10, it's gone.
All I know is that I had a lot leg cramps before changing my diet to gluten free, after I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, AND after that they disappeared. why? I am not sure! but they did! 🙂
I'm not diagnosed as celiac, but since going (almost) gluten free, my severe leg cramps have disappeared. There is growing evidence that non-celiac gluten sensitivity can cause leg cramps.
II have had RLS, multi leg cramps every night and peripheral neuropathy for years now and, I get it that it's not Cancer, but –wow!–is it hard to live with! Take many meds everynight and have tried everything mentioned–even the bars of saop (sigh)–and little seems to help. If I can sleep 90 min in a row I am lucky.
I have read everything I can get my hands on related to nightly leg cramps. I think this article is totally uninformative. There was no mention of statin drugs causing leg cramps. The only treatment that has helped my leg cramps was to stop taking my statin drug and to get accupuncture. I can now sleep through the night most nights.
I agree, worthless article. Basically said:"doctors have absolutely no idea, and we won't even think about accepting patient's cures , even though they work." Doctors know little but have huge egos.
Leg cramps. Stretch the OK leg out as far forward as you can. It looks as if you are trying to straddle something on the floor. This stretches the muscles of the bad leg. Hold for 3 minutes.
I've had leg cramps for as long as I can remember and my fitness level and diatary habits through out the years do not seem to have any effect on them. I don't have them all of the time but I can tell when my legs are cycling up for another round of them. When I feel the early symptoms I drink one small bottle of tonic water each day for about two weeks. The tonic water seems to have just enough quinine in it to prevent another round of leg cramps. I wish I had known about the tonic water years ago, but live and learn.
i wander what to do, because i have cramps several times a year, this article gives no hint to what to do, does someone think a doctor will be able to help or he or she will use trial and error, but what in the end???
I've had a lifelong problem with muscle cramps. Not just legs, but arms, abdominal, hands, even one in my neck. Hard exercise and physically demanding chores cause tham to be more frequent. They're also much more prevalent in hot weather. An electrolyte supplement helps to a degree, but doesn't prevent them entirely. Winter months tend to be cramp free, or at least they occur only rarely. It's very frustrating that there are no medical answers to this problem. After reading this article and discovering how common leg cramps are, it seems like the affliction would be more widely studied.
I get leg cramps when sleeping occassionally. About six weeks ago though I woke up with the most unbearable leg cramp I have ever felt. I got up to try and walk it off and ended up passing out in the bathroom, and woke up in a pool of blood from splitting my lip and nose open. Has this happened to anybody else? Passing out from the severe pain of a leg cramp? I am only 30 and have really skinny legs but my leg muscles are really defined and tight.
Often they are so intense I seem to approach shock. My skin gets clamy and I get light headed (similar to postural hypotension). I feel as though I might vomit and I have to lie down on the floor.
One of the most common reasons overlooked are those notorious statins so many people take to control cholesterol....My leg horrific craps had stopped until my Dr. put me back on Crestor for high cholesterol. These are cramps unlike anything you can imagine....
I get it a few times a month. I've tried mustard which has tumeric in it at the onset of cramps and it seems to release the contractions in calves, thighs or feet.
Plain and simple... avoid soda. If i drink a carbonated drink, i get horrible leg cramp that night. If i don't drink soda, i don't get leg cramp.
OMG, FINALLY SOMEONE THAT FOUND THE SAME CONNECTION I HAVE, SODAS AND CRAMPS! APPLE CIDER VINEGAR BRINGS ME SOME RELIEF.. EVER TRIED THAT?
Interestingly I had a knee injury in one leg that now has limited Range of Motion, and if I drink carbonated drinks the calf will be very tight the next day. If the soda I drink is flat it barely causes any issues. I think it has something to do with muscle fatigue since that calf is overused. The other leg is only ever a little 'stiff' when this happens, so it makes me think that the fatigue, and overuse of the injured leg magnifies the effect.
I drink a lot of Perrier and soda water because I heard it prevents cancer and I love it. I never drink diet soda or flavored soda only soda water mostly. I personally hate the taste of water. I'm wondering if drinking all the soda water is what's causing my immediate cramping whenever I wake up to pee during the night. I'm also on this blood pressure medication that I hear dehydrates you and creates the cramping is it the hctz? This cramping is really weird dudes im 67 years old and I really like to enjoy a good night sleep and I do sleep like a rock but it just seems when I get up to go to the bathroom boom they happen and I use cramp 911 I use a homeopathic spray I use quinine water I use everything you name it and they go away after a few seconds but it still disruptive initially when I wake up and I watch the muscle flexing by itself almost like I'm not in control of my calves momentarily. This is really a curse upon humanity this stupid cramping my mother used to complain about it and I never understood so I put her on tonic water and it went away for her but she was on enough medications to kill a horse. I do believe that our diets are terrible and that were terribly malnourished and that malnutrition and mineral deficiencies could also be a cause included with medications prescribed. Maybe this sort of thing is the answer I'll cut down on the soda water and try drinking regular water to see if it has an effect thank you for your comment god bless you all. Farley
My leg cramps seem to be related to heavy "exercise" such as hiking or doing a lot of climbing (even stairs) and standing during the day. They do not seem to be influenced by to cal or mag treatments. They are almost always thigh and not calf - although calf were once more typical. Hydration/electrolytes may help - still testing that theory. The so called broken-4 sleep position and positional freedom seem to help. A straight line position and little opportunity for change/movement seem to be factors. The onset seems to be related to tensing the affected muscle.
The reason I have been reading this is because I have been experiencing the very same symptoms as you describe. I'm 57, in very good health, and I like to hike and bike in the mountains. A few days ago, I took a mountain bike ride that was about 16 miles. There was a considerable amount of uphill riding and as we went I mentioned that I was probably going to have my leg cramps that night. I dread knowing they're coming but sure enough I was sitting on the couch about 6 hours after the ride and they hit. Both legs... excruciating pain... feels like the muscles of my inner thighs are being ripped out from my lower abdomen to my knees. I began getting extremely hot and sweating heavily as I try to walk around to get them to stop. Also, as you mentioned, I begin to feel as though I will throw up and/or pass out. As I have read through these postings you are the first person who mentioned these symptoms. And I agree. It seems as though one is going into shock. It is very intense and the pain is almost unimaginable until you can get it to stop. Have you found any way to prevent or relieve these cramps yet ? I have also gotten them after a strenuous mountain hike many times.
I noticed nocturnal leg cramps after climbing many flights of stairs. The only way to handle the severe discomfort is by getting out of bed, walking around and stretching the muscles. It happened twice last night and tonight I plan to stretch before going to sleep.
I temporarily had excruciating charley horses for a couple weeks, and figured out it was diuretics I was taking I added calcium, potassium and magnesium and it was like a miracle. Now when my calves feel a little tight I immediately take them and it does not get worse.
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Well, none of you people have the trouble my son does, but who knows, maybe one of you can help. My son has Severe Narcolepsy. Docs say it was caused by too many concussions, the last one being the straw that broke the camels back.
So, does anyone ever get better from Severe Narcolepsy? I know it is treated with Meds, and schedules, but we are having a hard time excepting our son (recent college grad) will be forever asleep if not on high dose of stimulants. Any advice appreciated.
I occasionally get leg and foot cramps at night. As far as I can tell I don't get them the night after I eat a lot of vegetables and some fruit the day before, only on days that I don't. I have 2 – 3 pieces of fruit a day, plus 3 cups of vegetables including one cup of leafy greens either cooked or raw. I'm glad I noticed the association - it can be quit painful. My father had this condition also.
Strange how its always those two areas (the calf muscles or the small muscles in the feet) and not any of the many other muscles in the human body. I do find that very curious but fortunate. Imagine if it were any of the muscles that affect our ability to breathe or the heart?
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i have had excruciating lower back pain and nothing has come of my dr apts. it has spread all over my body. i believe its my joints. one thing that i didnt think about is that i have insomnia every night. the dr had prescribed ambien and i still wake up. my back pain was a heaviness in back and legs. xray showed nothing in my back. i think about it now and i have had uncomfortable legs for a very long time. they always feel like they will charley horse when i am in bed. idk if this is what has affected my back and my hips get sore too when in bed. my hips hav actually waken me up at night. are my legs the culprit of the hips n back possibly? now my back pain is gone but now my legs are worse aaaaa!! please help...very fruaterated
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Leg cramps, also known as night leg cramps, especially calf-muscle cramps, are fairly common. Some people experience cramps in the muscles of their feet, as well as their thigh muscles. In most cases these types of cramps occur while the individual is sleeping or resting. *
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I used to get the leg cramps every night, several times a night. I started drinking a lot of water and cut down on caffeine. Now I rarely get them. What relieves the pain for my is raising both legs in the air and moving your toes up and down until the pain subsides. Takes only seconds for my pain to go away.
セット クラッチは従って確かに信じられないほど確認以来それにもかかわらずあなたを見るとき確かに非常に例外的な装置を得ることにあなた、それは通常の条件にもかかわらず全体の束を購入指摘した 1 つ。それは困難なかどうかを確認するために、あなたのミッドソールを伴う腰を押してください。トランクと私たちの靴のいくつかのスケルトンを配布もミッドソール。
This is highly overlooked and as someone who has had horrible exeriences with leg cramps I can tell you it's simply a lack of sleep that causes this. To help overcome, albeit hard at times when it occurs midsleep is to focus on long breaths the second before it happens. For whatever reason this can prevent the cramps from occuring. Hope that helps
Leg cramps at night can be a sign of sleep apnea...get a sleep study...once you start a CPAP machine the cramps will stop if that is the reason. Having sleep apnea reduces the oxygen level in your muscles which brings on the cramp. I am surprised by how many doctors still don't ask about a person's sleeping habits/problems when they complain of nighttime leg cramps.
I am twenty years old and experience such painful leg cramps that I scream and am unable to unbend my leg. I have experienced nothing quite as painful. it keeps me up many nights. So far, I have found gatorade helps a lot, especially if you work somewhere that you must be on your feet the entire shift. Also, rubbing and relaxing the calf muscles are an extreme help. I have also found that a cooling creme used for back pain works well when on legs. Lastly, the mere fact I no longer sleep unless I keep my legs bent, is very useful. It prevents me from stretching randomly at night.
I have had chronic calf pain since I was 13. I am now 33 and I still suffer every night. It now happens in the day.
My calf pain started when I was 14. I am now 33. The pain was just at night. But now it's all day. I went to the doctor and they had no idea what was wrong. They said my legs are fine, just stretch. I do every day. Nothing helps. PLEASE HELP ME!!!
So, what is the answer? I've had back surgery because the surgeon said it would take care of the cramps in my calves and feet at night. I'm on muscle relaxers and 1/2 a pain killer – I need the pain killer to at least let me sleep for an hour or so before jumping out of bed. This is chronic, and I can't believe how many people are suffering from this with absolutely NO SOLUTIONS from anyone! I'm about to kill myself because of the lack of sleep – I can't live like this.
What should I do because it had pain in it for 3 days what should I do
I have Type II diabetes and in the last three years have had severe legs cramps at night. I found that Crestor was doing this to me. I stopped taking it and my cholesterol is a little high but the cramps stopped. For some reason the cramps have come back for the last four nights and relief has been get out of been and swish warm salty water in my mouth for fast relief. I don't know why but it works, to settle my cramps down, but someone may find this helpful.