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Nocturnal leg cramps: What are they? How can they be managed through lifestyle & medicine?

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Do you experience frequent cramps at night?

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  • 0%No

What are nocturnal leg cramps?

Nocturnal leg cramps are involuntary muscle contractions that occur within the legs, most often during the night, that can be extremely painful.

Nocturnal leg cramps usually occur from abnormal nerve activity within the muscle at night.

Nocturnal leg cramps are often more common in women or older adults.

Are nocturnal leg cramps serious?

Nocturnal leg cramps are not considered dangerous, even though their exact cause is unknown. Nocturnal leg cramps do not normally cause any damage to the muscle or surrounding structures.

What are the causes of Nocturnal leg cramps?

As for normal cramps, the exact cause is unknown to neuromuscular researchers. However, some common causes of muscle cramps at night are:

Sedentary lifestyle

Muscle overexertion

Sitting position

Prolonged standing

Abnormal nerve activity

Who is more at risk for nocturnal cramps

  • Pregnancy [1]

  • Structural issues, such as flat feet [1]

  • Neurological disorders, such as peripheral neuropathy [1]

  • Neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease

  • Medications, such as Statins [1]

  • Cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease or peripheral vascular disease [1]

  • Metabolic disorders, such as diabetes [1]

  • Liver, kidney and thyroid problems [1]

  • Musculoskeletal disorders, such as osteoarthritis [1]

Treatments and management of nocturnal cramps

Treatments can be managed through lifestyle and medical intervention:

Lifestyle management and treatments

Medical management and treatments

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[1] Allen RE, Kirby KA. Nocturnal leg cramps. American family physician. 2012;86(4):350-5.

[2] Murray D, Miller KC, Edwards JE. Does a Reduction in Serum Sodium Concentration or Serum Potassium Concentration Increase the Prevalence of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps? Journal of Sport Rehabilitation. 2016;25(3):301-4.

[3] Schwellnus MP. Cause of exercise associated muscle cramps (EAMC)--altered neuromuscular control, dehydration or electrolyte depletion? Br J Sports Med. 2009;43(6):401-8.

[4] Maughan RJ, Shirreffs SM. Muscle Cramping During Exercise: Causes, Solutions, and Questions Remaining. Sports Medicine. 2019;49(S2):115-24.

[5] Bahk JW, Kim H, Jung-Choi K, Jung M-C, Lee I. Relationship between prolonged standing and symptoms of varicose veins and nocturnal leg cramps among women and men. Ergonomics. 2012;55(2):133-9.

[6] Kharait S. A Magnesium-Rich Electrolyte Hydration Mix Reduces Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps in Half-Marathon Runners. Journal of Exercise and Nutrition. 2022;5(3).

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