|Nocturnal Leg Cramps
Nocturnal leg cramps are sudden, spontaneous contractions of the lower leg and foot muscles, usually awakening you from sleep. The calf muscles are most often involved. The cramps are harmless and do not indicate a serious disease is present. Nevertheless, they are annoying.
Although the specific cause is unknown, these cramps are believed to be related to imbalances in local muscle chemistry. Many activities and diseases are associated with nocturnal leg cramps:
- Overexertion of the muscles
- Standing on hard surfaces
- Prolonged sitting
- Certain leg positions while sedentary
- Parkinson's disease
- Hormone disorders (eg, thyroid imbalance)
- Chemical imbalances (eg, calcium, potassium, magnesium)
- Certain medications
- Blood pressure medicines
- Statins (that lower cholesterol)
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
The following factors increase your chance of developing nocturnal leg cramps. If you have nocturnal leg cramps, tell your doctor about any of these Risk Factors:
- Age over 50
- Staying in certain positions for a long time
- Flat feet or other foot or ankle deformities
- Neurologic diseases
- Certain medications
- The diseases mentioned above
A symptom of nocturnal leg cramps:
- Sudden nighttime calf (or foot) cramps
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Tests may include the following:
- Blood tests for hormone or chemical imbalances, but most tests are normal
- Checking your foot pulses to assure adequate circulation
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. If no specific cause can be found, treatment options include the following:
- When cramps occur, pull against them with your leg muscles. Also, grab your foot (feet) and pull up.
- Standing on the involved leg often stops the cramping.
- Massage and hot or cold treatments will help the muscles relax.
None of these medicines has earned wholehearted approval for either safety or efficacy. Quinine, while often effective as a prophylactic measure, has a significant risk of major allergic reactions. The other prescription medications carry a sufficient risk of adverse reactions so that they are not generally recommended, except in severe cases.
- Diphenhydramine hydrochloride (Benadryl®)
- Vitamin E 800 U/day
- Quinine sulfate
- Simple muscle relaxants (such as meprobamate, Equanil®, Robaxin®)
- Verapamil hydrochloride (Calan®, Isoptin®, Verelan®)
- Chloroquine phosphate (Aralen®)
- Hydroxychloroquine sulfate (Plaquenil®)
- Carbamazepine (Tegretol®)
- Phenytoin (Dilantin®)
To help reduce your chances of getting nocturnal leg cramps, take the following steps:
- Stretch three times a day and just before going to bed.
- Face a wall and put your hands on the wall and keep them there. Step backward, keeping your knees locked and your heels on the floor until you feel a strong pulling in your calves. Hold that position for 10 seconds. Repeat two or three times.
- Exercise feet and legs regularly.
- Drink plenty of liquids.
- Eat plenty of potassium-rich foods (bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit).
- Wear comfortable, supportive shoes.
- Sleep with toes up, not pointed downward.