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Nocturnal Leg Cramps

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:


Nocturnal Leg Cramps

(Muscle Cramps; Nocturnal Muscles Cramps; Age-Related Cramps)


Nocturnal leg cramps are sudden spasms in the lower leg and foot muscles. The calf muscles are most often involved. The cramps are painful and often disrupt sleep.

The Calf Muscles.

Nucleus factsheet imagehttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=46984698BC00079_ma.jpgBC00079_ma.jpgNULLjpgCalf muscleNULL\\filer01a\Intellect\images\BC00079_ma.jpgNULL10NULL2004-03-23235300Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


The exact cause of nocturnal leg cramps is unknown. They may be due to chemical imbalances. This may lead to problems with the nerves, muscles, or blood supply.

Risk Factors

Nocturnal leg cramps are more common in people at least 50 years of age. Other things that raise the risk are:


The main symptom is a sudden cramp in the calf or foot muscle.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis is based on symptoms.

Blood tests and imaging tests may be done to check for underlying causes.


The goal of treatment is to reduce cramps. It may also include treating any underlying causes.

If no cause is found, treatment options are:

  • Stretching leg muscles—when cramps occur
  • Standing on the affected leg and walking—to help stop cramping
  • Massage, and hot or cold treatments—to relax the muscles


The risk of nocturnal leg cramps may be reduced by:

  • Exercising and stretching the legs and feet
  • Drinking plenty of liquids
  • Wearing comfortable, supportive shoes


Medicines may be used if the cramps are severe. Options are:

  • Muscle relaxants
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Anticonvulsants




  • Delacour, C., Chambe, J., et al. Association between physical activity and nocturnal leg cramps in patients over 60 years old: a case-control study. Scientific Reports, 2020; 10 (1): 2638.
  • Nocturnal leg cramps. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/nocturnal-leg-cramps.
  • Roguin Maor, N., Alperin, M., et al. Effect of magnesium oxide supplementation on nocturnal leg cramps: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2017; 177 (5): 617-623.


  • Mary-Beth Seymour, RN
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.