Seven Common Causes of Leg Pain at Night

Written By Center for Vein Restoration
Leg pain at night

It's a rude awakening to be jolted out of a deep sleep by leg pain. Nightly leg pain can range from mild soreness to an excruciating cramp or a dull ache to a sharp stabbing pain in the legs. When nightly leg pain disrupts your sleep and impacts your quality of life, it may be time to find some answers and take steps to get relief. Vein-related problems often contribute when it comes to leg discomfort, especially at night.

Read along for more information on the most common causes of leg cramps at night , when to see a doctor, and your potential remedy and treatment options for a better night's sleep.

7 Common Causes of Leg Pain at Night

A lot happens to our bodies when we sleep. Your nightly aches and pains could be caused by everything from how active or inactive you were during the day to your sleeping position, what kind of footwear you wore during the day, or may be caused by more serious medical issues. Seven common causes of leg cramps are:

  1. Muscle Cramps : Muscle cramps are a common offender when it comes to nightly leg pain. Muscle cramps, or “Charley horses,” are a sudden cramping of the calf and thigh muscle that results in stiffness and a lingering ache after the spasm passes and are often caused by muscle fatigue, dehydration, or a nutritional imbalance.

    Certainly, calf and thigh cramps are a rude awakening, but they can be managed with lifestyle changes, including stretching before bed, staying hydrated, and changing your sleeping position to be more mindful of your sleeping position and your bedding; Heavy bedding can put weight on your feet and push them into a prone position, causing muscle tension and cramps.

    Some remedies for muscle cramps include massage, stretching, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories.

  2. Restless Leg Syndrome: Restless leg syndrome or RLS is a neurological condition that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs and is accompanied by symptoms like painful muscle cramping and muscle spasms, or a tingling, “crawling,” or itching feeling in the legs.

    Most people who experience restless leg syndrome tend to see increased symptoms at night or when at rest.

    Restless leg syndrome responds to lifestyle changes such as avoiding alcohol and caffeine and quitting smoking, all of which are positive lifestyle changes you can make to improve your overall health, especially your vein health.

    People with restless leg syndrome may also be prescribed medication by their provider if they’re unable to sleep or see relief from home remedies or self-care.

  3. Varicose Veins: Varicose veins aren’t just a cosmetic problem, they can be quite painful and cause nighttime discomfort with a feeling of heaviness in the calf and leg and a dull throbbing sensation.

    Varicose veins are caused when the one-way valve in the vein weakens, causing blood to pool in the veins, increasing pressure, and causing aching and discomfort after prolonged periods of standing or activity.

    Complications arising from untreated varicose veins can be painful. This pain and discomfort can worsen at night as you’re not moving around as much in your sleep, which can reduce your circulation and blood flow.

    There are many treatment options for varicose veins, ranging from lifestyle changes to non-invasive in-clinic procedures. The vein care staff at Center for Vein Restoration can help you decide on the right treatment for your varicose veins, so leg pain doesn’t disturb your sleep.

  4. Venous Insufficiency: Your nightly leg cramps could be caused by venous insufficiency. Venous insufficiency occurs when the veins in the leg and calf struggle to return blood to the heart due to damaged valves in the vein, causing blood and fluid to pool in the legs, which can cause pain and heaviness in the legs. Venous insufficiency symptoms also include throbbing and heaviness in the legs and skin changes.

    Symptoms of venous insufficiency may worsen for some at night as you’re lying in a prone position. The “prone position” is the medical term for lying flat on your stomach.

    Venous insufficiency, especially chronic venous insufficiency, carries the potential for more serious issues including skin ulcers, chronic wounds and pain, deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots.

    Treatment for venous insufficiency includes lifestyle changes such as wearing compression stockings to improve circulation, avoiding alcohol and tobacco products, maintaining a healthy weight and diet, as well as minimally invasive procedures that include sclerotherapy, ambulatory phlebectomy, thermal or laser ablation, and more.

    If you’re struggling with venous insufficiency, our board-certified vein specialist team can help you find a treatment that helps relieve the symptoms of venous insufficiency so you can get a good night’s rest.

  5. Edema: Edema, or swelling that allows fluid to accumulate in the lower extremities, can cause nightly leg pain. People experiencing eczema describe tightness and aching heaviness in the affected leg or legs.

    Edema can be caused by overuse and overexertion, eating a salt-heavy diet, or is a symptom of a more serious underlying condition such as kidney or heart disease, a blood clot, or deep vein thrombosis.

    If edema in your legs and feet is waking you up at night, and you’ve ruled out more serious underlying complications, home remedies such as maintaining a healthy diet, elevating the legs to reduce the discomfort from swelling, or wearing compression stockings may help improve your circulation.

    If you experience sudden, unexplained swelling in one or both legs accompanied by chest pains or trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately.

  6. Overexertion: Sometimes, leg pain at night might be as simple as muscle fatigue from your daily activities, especially if you’ve been standing for long periods or participated in strenuous activities.

    Overexertion pain is usually localized to the calf, ankle, and feet and could be described as an ache or soreness that you can stretch into or out of. Muscle fatigue is especially common if you’ve increased your activity level after a period of being sedentary.

    Nightly aches from a busy day can be remedied by stretching before bed, staying hydrated, applying warm compresses or ice to the affected area, or taking over-the-counter NSAIDs.

  7. Deep Vein Thrombosis: Deep vein thrombosis is a serious condition where a blood clot or clots form deep in the veins of the leg. Leg pain at night or rest is a common symptom of deep vein thrombosis, which tends to be more noticeable at night when you’re resting.

    Symptoms include a heavy ache in the leg, usually in the calf or thigh. The skin of the leg will be warm to the touch and may appear red or discolored near the back of the leg below the knee.

    If you’re experiencing any symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, seek medical attention.

Pregnancy (an honorable mention for common causes of nightly leg pain):

Pregnant women often experience edema, heaviness, and leg aches at night due to the increased blood volume, carrying extra weight, and hormonal changes in circulation.

Is Leg Pain At Night Serious?

Any leg pain that keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep is worth discussing with your doctor. You should see a doctor immediately if you have any underlying health conditions that accompany your leg pain such as diabetes, or are at risk for heart disease. Your vein health plays a significant role in your nightly leg pain. Seek medical attention if you’re experiencing any unexplained or sudden leg pain accompanied by:

You could be experiencing a life-threatening condition and should seek medical treatment immediately.

Most causes of leg pain at night can be explained by your daily activities or the current state of your health. If you address the root cause of your leg nighttime leg pain, you can improve your sleep quality and get a better understanding of how your vein health can impact your life, even when you’re sleeping. Lifestyle changes like movement and exercise, avoiding alcohol and tobacco products, and maintaining a healthy weight, can go a long way to alleviate your nighttime aches and pains.

Make sure you discuss any nighttime cramps that wake you up more than once a night, keep you from falling asleep, are accompanied by other symptoms, or don't respond to lifestyle changes or over-the-counter remedies with your doctor.

In Conclusion: 7 Common Causes for Leg Pain at Night

It’s important to tell your doctor about any leg pain that keeps you up at night. Schedule an appointment with our expert vein physicians at Center for Vein Restoration today and explore your treatment options for healthier veins and a better night’s sleep, free of leg cramps, muscle tension, and vein discomfort. Visit us at one of our over 110 vein clinic locations in the US.

Call 240-965-3915 to speak to a Patient Services Representative or schedule your consultation online at a CVR near you.

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