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Nocturnal leg cramps, also known as night leg cramps, are spasms that occur in the lower extremities, particularly the legs, during nighttime. These cramps are painful, involuntary and usually short-lived. They are characterized by tight and persistent muscle contraction commonly in the calves. Sometimes it also involves the feet and thighs.

These contractions can last from 30 seconds to 2 minutes and sometimes even longer. After the muscle cramps stop soreness may be experienced.

What causes nocturnal leg cramps?

The cause of nocturnal leg cramps is still unknown. No clinical trials present hard proof of what causes this condition. However, in some cases nocturnal leg cramps have been related to:

  • Oversitting for a long period of time
  • Too much force in the muscles
  • Improper sitting
  • Standing on concrete and rough floors

In addition, several medical conditions and types of medications have also been linked to this abnormal muscle contraction. These include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Pregnancy
  • Electrolyte imbalance or dehydration
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Neuropathy
  • Myopathy
  • Structural disorders (e.g. flat feet)
  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Beta-agonists, diuretics, and statins

Are nocturnal leg cramps and restless legs syndrome the same?

No. The only similarity is the fact that they both occur at night when a person is in a sleep state. Restless legs syndrome is not associated with cramping and therefore does not cause pain. RLS is more of a tightness – an undesirable tension in the legs that causes restlessness. As a person moves his legs to ease the discomfort there is a feeling of relief. However, once the moving stops the crawling sensation comes back.

Nocturnal leg cramps on the other hand cause moderate to heavy pain. And unlike RLS, the muscle where the contraction is felt should be strongly stretched out to promote alleviation.

Who can acquire these cramps?

Anyone from a child to an adult can get this type of leg spasm. Observations of this leg disturbance show that older adults are oftentimes the ones suffering from nocturnal leg cramps.


Nocturnal leg cramps can be painful and persistent. However, it isn’t in any way a serious condition. Most people suffering from it are typically not advised to take any medication. Rather they are recommended a set of stretching exercises they can do at home.

These are some remedies you can do to treat leg cramps which include the following:

  • Gently rubbing the leg
  • Stretching the leg out
  • Applying heat compress
  • Walking on your heels
  • Drinking pickle juice

If none of these remedies work to alleviate the pain and your leg is still sore, take a dose of a painkiller you can find at the nearest drugstore.

If the cramps are becoming more regular rather than a time-to-time occurance discuss the matter with your primary care physician.

Additional references:

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