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How to Stop Leg Cramps & Calf Pain at Night

by Patty Weasler, RN October 30, 2020 0 Comments

sleeping with night splint

Calf pain at night can interfere with sleep and make for a miserable day. The first step to stop lower leg pain is to determine the cause. Different causes will need different approaches for treatment, but many can be done in the comfort of your own home. In this article we’ll cover the top causes of nighttime calf pain and discuss your options to help you rest comfortably all night long. 

What Causes Calf Pain at Night

Nighttime calf pain can be caused by numerous factors. Something as simple as leg cramps to serious blood clots. Once you’ve identified what’s causing your pain you can move onto finding a solution. Check out the causes here:

Leg Cramps

Nocturnal leg cramps are a common cause of leg pain. Sometimes called a charley horse, these involuntary muscle cramps cause your calf muscles to spasm which results in anything from slight discomfort to severe pain. Nighttime leg cramps can last a few seconds to hours. It can be caused by multiple things, here is a list of the common causes:

  • Sitting or standing for long periods
  • Dehydration
  • Older age
  • Decreased blood flow
  • Shortened tendons
  • Muscle overuse
  • Pregnancy

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome is a sleep disorder that causes sudden, intense urges to move your legs. Sufferers describe having sensations of itching, burning, aching, and tugging at their legs. Anyone can develop restless legs syndrome but the likelihood of developing it increases as you age. There is also a strong genetic link, meaning if someone in your family has it your chance of getting it is higher. The other factors and medical conditions that are typically linked to restless leg syndrome are:

  • Iron deficiency
  • Nerve damage
  • Depression
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Certain medications
  • Pregnancy

More on Restless Leg Syndrome

Excessive Exercise

Another cause of calf pain at night is excessive exercise. The constant beating on your leg muscles can cause tendonitis, muscle injury, and soreness. This doesn’t just apply to athletes but anyone who overuses their lower leg muscles. Most of these problems can be solved with rest and simple at home remedies like ice.

Poor Standing or Sitting Posture

Your calf pain can be due to poor standing or sitting posture. If you cross your legs or point your toes pointed this can lead to calf pain and cramping. Poor standing and sitting posture can lead to other parts of your body compensating for your poor posture and nerve pain. It’s important to sit and stand with your shoulders back. Standing for long periods on hard surfaces, like concrete, can also take a toll on your body.

Good Posture Practices

Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease is when the vessels in your lower legs become hardened and damaged. The blood vessels become narrow and even blocked causing a decrease in blood flow. This leads to pain and cramping. In some cases, resting helps relieve the pain, but in other severe cases medical treatment is necessary.

Quick Calf Pain Treatments

When calf pains strike at night, most can be treated at home with simple techniques. Read on below to learn what you can do to alleviate your pain quickly and get a good night’s sleep.

Compression

Compress your calf with an elastic bandage or adjustable brace to support your muscle and reduce swelling. You can use compression during activities or while you’re resting. Make sure to tighten the compression on your leg enough to be effective without restricting blood flow.

Massage

Massage is a great way to relax your muscles to get ready for a restful night’s sleep. If you have nighttime calf pain take time each evening when you get into bed to massage your calf muscles. There are multiple massage techniques you can use, gentle long strokes or deep pressure. A massage roller ball can help you achieve either self massage technique to release tension in your calves.

Stretches and Exercise

When you are in pain, you want quick and effective treatments. Calf muscle stretches and calf exercises can provide relief and help prevent future pain. If your pain is due to cramping then gentle stretching can help. Start by standing at the side of your bed and lift your toes so that they point towards your shin.

If your calf pain is from a muscle injury then exercise can strengthen the surrounding muscles and prevent reinjury. Just be sure to wait until the initial injury has healed before you begin exercising. Toe raises are an easy calf exercise that can be done at the side of your bed. Standing with flat feet, lift your heels off of the ground and then slowly lower them back down.

Calf Stretches

Calf Exercises

Hot and Cold Therapy

Hot and cold are two complementary therapies that can help you manage your calf pain. Cold from an ice pack or another source will constrict the blood vessels which reduces swelling. The cold also minimizes pain by interrupting the pain signal.

Grab a heating pad or warm towel to apply heat therapy. The warmth widens blood vessels which brings more blood flow to the area to speed up healing. We recommend using cold during the initial injury phase and then adding heat later on.

Alternating Hot and Cold Therapy 

Over the Counter Pain Killers

Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and naproxen are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) that reduce pain and swelling. These medications are generally inexpensive and easily found in pharmacies. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking a new medication. Even over-the-counter drugs can cause serious side effects in people with certain health conditions.

Elevate the Leg

Elevating your leg is another home treatment for calf pain. Use a leg wedge pillow when you are sleeping or laying on the couch to lift your legs. The elevation will help with any swelling and take the pressure off of your lower back as well.

Long-Term Care

The best way to reduce calf pain at night is to adopt some lifestyle changes and focus on a long term solution. Below we’ll cover these long term treatments and how you can incorporate them into your lifestyle.

Lifestyle Changes

Since calf pain can be caused by so many different things the lifestyle changes you take on will depend upon the cause. However, there are some changes that apply to just about anyone, here they are.

  • Exercise regularly
  • Stretch to improve your range of motion
  • Don’t smoke
  • Allow your body to rest, especially when injured
  • Manage your weight

Practice Good Posture

If you sit at a desk for work or are on your feet it doesn’t matter. Poor posture can impact your whole body and cause pain almost anywhere. When you have good posture your body is in proper alignment and you’ll feel better.

Check Out Our Guide to Good Posture

Treating Nocturnal Calf Pain

Calf pain can be caused by something as simple as leg cramps or as complex as a blood clot. Mild calf pain cases can typically be treated at home but more serious situations will need medical intervention. If you are experiencing new calf pain talk to your doctor to determine the cause and to find the best treatment for your situation.

Sources:

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14170-leg-cramps

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9497-restless-legs-syndrome

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Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.



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