Night leg cramps, also called nocturnal leg cramps, are painful, involuntary spasms, aching or contractions of muscles in your legs. In most cases, night leg cramps involve your calf muscles, but muscles in your feet or thighs may cramp as well.
For most people, night leg cramps are merely an annoyance — something that jerks you awake infrequently. But in some cases, you may need to see a doctor.
Seek immediate medical care if you:
- Experience severe and persistent cramping
- Have night leg cramps after being exposed to a toxin, such as lead
Schedule an office visit if you:
- Have trouble functioning during the day because leg cramps interrupt your sleep
- Develop muscle weakness and atrophy with leg cramps
Activities that might help prevent night leg cramps include:
- Drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
- Stretching your leg muscles or riding a stationary bicycle for a few minutes before you go to bed
- Untucking the bed covers at the foot of your bed
Activities that might help relieve night leg cramps include:
- Flexing your foot up toward your head
- Massaging the cramped muscle with your hands or with ice
- Walking or jiggling the leg
- Taking a hot shower or warm bath
Although once widely used, the medication quinine is no longer recommended, as its effectiveness has not been demonstrated in carefully performed studies of people with night leg cramps.
Feb. 20, 2013
- Daroff RB, et al. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-1-4377-0434-1..C2009-0-40427-6--TOP&isbn=978-1-4377-0434-1&uniqId=364938937-2. Accessed Dec. 10, 2012.
- Monderer RS, et al. Nocturnal leg cramps. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. 2010;10:53.
- Allen RE, et al. Nocturnal leg cramps. American Family Physician. 2012;86:350.
- Wilkinson JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., Dec. 31, 2012.