There are lots of things that can keep you up at night. It can be hard to figure out what to do when it’s leg pain. It seems like leg pain should subside at night. Your body is ready to rest and recover from the day’s activities. But if you’re wondering why your leg pain is worse at night, it could be a symptom of a more serious chronic condition.
Leg cramps 101
For some people, it’s not uncommon to wake up from feeling pain, especially if it’s something like a leg cramp. A leg cramp, also called a charley horse, can wake you out of a deep sleep.
The affected muscle may feel like it’s searing hot or totally frozen. This pain can be intense and last for as long as 10 minutes. This type of muscle cramping typically subsides if you can stand up, as gravity can help with your blood flow.
But if you find yourself experiencing leg pain worse at night more often and it’s affecting the quality of your sleep, you may have other problems. Chronic pain coupled with sleep disorders can increase your risks for things like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cognitive difficulties, mood disorders and even cancer.
When researching why your leg pain is worse at night, it’s important to know what type of pain you’re dealing with, so you can manage it successfully.
Why leg cramps can be serious
Leg cramps can be the result of all sorts of things such as:
- muscle fatigue from physical activity
- not getting enough potassium, calcium or magnesium in your diet
- medications serving as triggers (this can include medicine used to regulate high blood pressure and even some birth control pills)
Other things that contribute to leg cramps and leg pain at night can be sitting for long periods of time, standing on or working on concrete floors or even sitting improperly.
People who develop painful varicose veins often experience similar types of leg pain at night. This includes throbbing, tingling or heaviness in the legs. The appearance of varicose veins – if they look lumpy, bulging or twisted – can also be an indicator that they are getting worse.
Leg pain frequency
You may experience leg cramps once in a while and then see them quickly improve. It helps if you focus on stretching before and after physical activity. If that’s the case, then it’s likely nothing serious.
On the other hand, if you experience leg cramps regularly, muscle cramping for long period of time or painful (or worsening) varicose veins, it could be the sign of a blood clot or peripheral artery disease.
Blood clots can be serious medical conditions depending on your age and health. Blood clots in the hands can actually travel to the heart and cause a stroke or heart attack. It’s the same for blood clots in the legs.
Plaque build-up in your blood vessels can go mobile and travel to the heart. That’s why it’s crucial to not ignore nighttime muscle cramping accompanied by intense pain in the leg.
Leg cramp causes
Common causes of this type of pain include:
- Sitting for long periods of time
- Over-use of the muscles
- Standing on or working on concrete floors
- Sitting improperly
To stop nighttime leg cramps, stretch your calf muscles, stand up to straighten the legs and gently pull your toes upward. The muscle might feel tight or knotted. Massaging the calf after the cramp is over may also help.
Restless leg syndrome 101
While some leg pain happens during or after activity, restless leg syndrome occurs once your legs are resting. People with restless leg syndrome often feel sensations such as:
Living with restless leg syndrome
If you’ve never experienced restless leg syndrome, you may dismiss it as not being something that can disrupt your day-to-day life.