What causes leg cramps at night?

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clairewait's profile pic

clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on


Night-time charley horses are a phenomena that typically begin to plague pregnant women right around the 2nd trimester and sometimes last through delievery.

The causes are virtually unknown but theories include: carrying around all the extra weight causes fatigue in the leg muscles; pressure of the expanding uterous on blood vessels; deficiency in calcium or too much phosphorus.

I tend to lean toward some sort of chemical cause, rather than the "weight gain" and exercise ideas.  I've always been physically active and didn't actually even gain much weight with two pregnancies - but I got these leg cramps with both and they were uncontrollable and unbearable.  Sometimes I'd move my big toe wrong and cause my entire calf muscle to seize up for several minutes.  With my 2nd pregnancy - these started happening within 6 or 8 weeks - before I had even begun to grow a belly.

If I were you, I'd definitely go with the chemical over physical cause-theories.

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besure77 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

Leg cramps are an uncontrolled contraction of leg muscle. Leg cramps also occur very suddenly. The muscles that easily cramp are the hamstring, the calf, and the quadriceps. They most commonly happen during the night and can last for several minutes, although most last for under one minute.

The most common cause of leg cramping is participating in an unusual exercise. This may mean that the person is exercising more, or trying new exercises. Age may also be a factor. Adolescents and people over the age of 65 are more likely to get leg cramps, as well as people who are overweight.

ako6777's profile pic

ako6777 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

Leg cramps are also known as Charlie Horses.  These usually occur in the calf.  Many times the cause of a charlie horse is unknown but there can be many reasons.  Some of the reasons are listed below:

  1. Muscle fatigue
  2. Heavy exercises
  3. High weight
  4. Dehydration
  5. Electrolyte imbalance (potassium)
  6. Medications

Leg cramps can be prevented by drinking plenty of water during the day.  This is because dehydration can lead to cramping.  Stretching before and after exercising is important as well.  This will help the muscles warm up and cool down.  Sudden changes in exercises can cause cramping.  Due to this you don't want to increase your exercise routine too quickly.

Treatment of leg cramps consists of massaging the cramped area and stretching it out slowly.  Warm showers are also effective treatments.

dano7744's profile pic

dano7744 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

Nocturnal leg cramps may be idiopathic or have one of many causes. A few causitive agents include: dehydration, diabetes mellitus, diuretics, electrolyte imbalance, oral contraceptives, and PAD.

Dehydration may be the cause because intravascular fluids become sluggish and thick. DM contributes to poor circulation. Diuretics cause a total loss of fluid in the vascular spaces. Electrolyte disturbances are probably the most common cause (especially potassium) the sodium-potassium pump in muscles in deficient in potassium. BCP's contribute to thrombis formation. PAD (peripheral arterial disease) also affects circulation because of a buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in the intimal layers of the vessels.

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