Nighttime (or nocturnal) leg cramps are usually sudden spasms, or tightening, of muscles in the calf. But the muscle cramps can sometimes happen in the thigh or the foot. They often occur just as you are falling asleep or waking up. These painful cramps can last a few seconds to a few minutes.
Though nighttime leg cramps are common, experts don't know exactly what causes them. But most of the time it is not because of illness. Some of the things that may cause leg cramps include:
-Getting too much exercise or overusing the muscles.You may need to try several different ways to stop a leg cramp before you find what works best for you. Here are some things you can try:
-Standing on concrete for a long time, sitting for a long time, or putting your legs in awkward positions while you sleep.
-Not having enough potassium, calcium, and other minerals in your blood.
-Being dehydrated, which means your body has lost too much fluid.
-Taking certain medicines, such as antipsychotics, birth control pills, diuretics, statins, and steroids.
-Having flat feet.
-Having thyroid disease.
-Walk around, or jiggle your leg.Use these tips to help prevent nighttime leg cramps:
-Stretch your calf muscles. You can do this stretch while you sit or stand:
-While sitting, straighten your leg and flex your foot up toward your knee. It may help to place a rolled towel under the ball of your foot and, while holding the towel at both ends, gently pull the towel toward you while keeping your knee straight.
-While standing about 2 ft (0.6 m) from a wall, lean forward against the wall. Keep the knee of the affected leg straight and the heel on the ground. Do this while you bend the knee of the other leg.
-These exercises stretch your calf muscles, and you will probably feel the leg cramp go away after a few minutes.
-Some people find that a hot shower or a warm bath helps. Others get relief by rubbing the calf with an ice pack.
-Drink plenty of water and other fluids during the day.Talk with your doctor if you have muscle cramps that keep coming back, are severe, or occur in other muscles of your body. These may be symptoms of another problem.©2005-2012 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
-Limit or avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine. These can make you dehydrated, which means your body has lost too much fluid.
-Make sure you are eating healthy foods (especially if you are pregnant) that are rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
-Ride a stationary bike to condition and stretch your muscles.
-Stretch your leg muscles for a few minutes before you go to bed.
-If you are taking medicines that are known to cause leg cramps, your doctor may prescribe different medicines.
-If your leg cramps bother you a lot, your doctor may prescribe medicines that calm leg nerves or relax the muscles.
WebMD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.