When it’s time to go to sleep, having leg pain at night can make it difficult to rest well. Nighttime leg pain is a common problem for many people, and can cause sleep disorders. During the day, you might not feel as much leg pain because you’re busy and active, so you may also wonder why your leg pain is worse at night. Here are a few conditions that may make your leg pain worse at night.
Restless Leg Syndrome
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 of crawling, creeping, aching, burning, tugging or pulling. Typically, people feel better by moving their legs. Between the restless leg discomfort and the leg movements to improve it, sleep disturbances are common.
Restless Leg Syndrome Causes
Currently, there are no known cause for restless leg syndrome. However, researchers believe that it may be caused by an imbalance of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine helps deliver messages to control muscle movements.
While there’s no known cause, there are risk factors that make you more susceptible to developing the condition. These risk factors include heredity, pregnancy and aging. Restless leg syndrome can happen to anyone at any age, but it more commonly occurs as you get older. In addition, women are more likely to develop it than men.
Nighttime Leg Cramps
Legs cramps at night can happen at any time and can be very painful. The pain usually starts in the calf, but it may happen in the feet or toes as well. These types of leg cramps may wake someone up from a sound sleep, and may last up to 10 minutes.
To stop nighttime leg cramps, you may need to stretch the calf muscle, stand up to straighten the leg and gently pull your toes upward. The muscle might feel tight or knotted. Sometimes massaging the calf after the cramp is over may help.
Leg Cramp Causes
- Sitting for long periods of time
- Over-use of the muscles
- Standing on or working on concrete floors
- Sitting improperly
Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease is a narrowing of the peripheral arteries serving the legs, stomach, arms and head. (“Peripheral” in this case means away from the heart, in the outer regions of the body.) PAD most commonly affects arteries in the legs.
Peripheral artery disease leg pain can occur anywhere in your leg, but the most common places to feel pain are in the muscles of your calf, thigh or buttocks. The pain can range from mild to so severe you can barely walk a very short distance. PAD is a progressive disease. For some people, pain only occurs during the daytime. Others have pain when resting or at night.
Added risks for PAD
Factors that can increase your chances for peripheral artery disease, include:
- Your risk for peripheral artery disease increases with age.
- High blood pressure or high cholesterol puts you at risk for PAD.
- If you smoke, you have an especially high risk for PAD.
- If you have diabetes, you have an especially high risk for PAD.
Treatment for PAD
Treatment for peripheral artery disease has two major goals:
- Manage symptoms, such as leg pain, so that you can resume physical activities
- Stop the progression of atherosclerosis throughout your body to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke
You may be able to accomplish these goals with lifestyle changes, especially early in the course of peripheral artery disease. If you smoke, quitting is the single most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of complications.
While living with leg pain that worsens at night is difficult, understanding your leg pain at night condition, helps you manage your pain, so you get more rest. If you suspect leg cramps, restless leg syndrome or are having trouble sleeping due to leg pain, contact your doctor. You and your doctor will work together to diagnose and treat your leg pain.