How to Deal With Nighttime Leg Cramps

Beth Kassanoff, M.D. | Sept 7, 2016 Sept 12, 2016

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What to know

Nighttime leg cramps (charley horse) often can’t be attributed to a single cause. They’re sometimes associated with dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance, certain drugs such as diuretics, excessive sweating, dialysis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, or thyroid disease.

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Common symptoms

Most often, people complain of a sudden, involuntary, painful cramp in one leg (typically in the calf) or a “knot” (hardness and tightness in the affected muscle) that occurs at night while in bed. Sound familiar? Here’s how to find relief.

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Stretch it out

Stretch the affected muscle; relieve a calf cramp by keeping your leg straight and pointing your toes up toward your knee.

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Walk it off

Try to walk or wiggle your leg, then elevate it.

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Massage the pain

Massage the affected muscle with ice wrapped in a towel.

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Add warmth

Take a warm bath or a hot shower, directing water at the muscle for about five minutes.

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Drink up

Prevent future episodes by staying well hydrated.

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When to see a doctor

Your doctor may recommend a physical exam and blood tests or suggest daily stretching exercises, mineral and vitamin supplements, or prescription drugs to help muscles relax or improve sleep.