Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: How can I prevent leg cramps at night?

Ask the doctor

How can I prevent leg cramps at night?

Q. I have been having frequent foot and calf cramps at night that are quite painful. They come on when I first get into bed. What causes them? Can I do anything to prevent them?

A. Nocturnal leg cramps are common as people get older. Almost half of people over age 50 report some kind of leg cramps. Among those who have them, about 40% experience symptoms three times a week, and 5% to 10% report symptoms every night. Cramps occur when muscles in your feet, calves, or thighs tense so much that they cause pain. For reasons that aren't clear, most people experience cramps only at night. Often the only thing that brings relief is to stretch the muscles or get up and walk.

These cramps can result from musculoskeletal problems like flat feet or high arches, dehydration, long periods of sitting, or long hours of standing on hard floors. People with neurological problems such as Parkinson's disease or neuropathy (nerve damage) often get nocturnal muscle cramps, too. Anemia is a less common cause.

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