Frequent episodes of leg pain at nighttime may cause sleep deprivation, which may affect a person’s health in an adverse manner. The following write-up provides information on the medical conditions that may cause aching legs at night.
The causes of leg pain range from muscle strain due to overstretching of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, or joints in the legs, to trauma or stress injuries. At times, neurological disorders such as restless legs syndrome or peripheral neuropathy could be responsible for causing aching legs at night. If a neurological condition is the underlying cause, leg pain may be accompanied by tingling or a pins and needles sensation. Leg pain could occur anytime. When it occurs at night, it can disturb your sleep.
People of all age groups can experience leg pain at night. Children in the age group of 4 to 12 years could suffer from recurrent idiopathic nocturnal limb pain or growing pains, which are intermittent, cramp-like pains, that may occur in the evening or nighttime. The exact cause of growing pains is not known, and these often resolve after a child enters the phase of adolescence. While taking rest may prove beneficial if the underlying cause of pain is a muscle strain, it is always better to consult a doctor to ascertain if a medical condition is the reason behind aching legs.
Veins are blood vessels that return deoxygenated blood to the heart. These contain one-way valves that prevent blood from flowing in the other direction. These valves open when the muscles contract, and close when the muscles are at rest. If these valves don’t function in the right manner, blood flows backwards, thereby causing the veins to become enlarged, swollen, and twisted. This condition is medically referred to as varicose veins. This condition could cause leg pain. Pain usually worsens if the affected individual has been sitting or standing for a long time. The elderly are more susceptible to this condition. Obesity is also a risk factor. In case of women, the risk increases during pregnancy and menopause.
◘ Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease is a medical condition that is caused by atherosclerosis, which refers to the narrowing of the peripheral arteries (arteries that carry oxygenated blood to the limbs) due to the buildup of plaque. It occurs when plaque buildup (deposits containing fat, cholesterol, calcium, fibrous tissue, etc.) restricts the supply of blood to the legs. As a result, the affected individual experiences pain while walking or exercising. With time, the flow of oxygenated blood to the limbs could be severely affected. Under such circumstances, the affected individual may experience leg pain at night or whenever he/she is resting.
◘ Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy is a medical condition that is characterized by damage to the motor, sensory, and autonomic peripheral nerves. It could be a complication of diabetes. Other contributory factors include alcohol abuse, infections, trauma, autoimmune diseases, exposure to toxins, vitamin deficiencies, tumors, etc. The affected individual is likely to experience symptoms such as pain, muscle weakness, poor coordination, increased sensitivity to touch, or numbness in the hands, arms, feet, and legs.
◘ Muscle Cramps
Leg cramps occur when muscles contract involuntarily, and cannot relax. Skeletal muscles in our calves, thighs, and in the arch of the feet are prone to muscle cramps. These sudden bouts of pain, including muscle cramps at night, can last for a few seconds to a couple of hours. Lack of oxygen or an electrolyte imbalance can also cause cramping. Leg cramps that occur during night can certainly disturb your sleep.
◘ Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) refers to the constant movement of legs or feet, in response to an unpleasant tingling, throbbing, burning, tugging, gnawing, or crawling sensation under the skin, especially in the calves. These sensations are mostly felt when a person is resting. Moving the legs usually relieves the discomfort. Periodic limb movement disorder is another associated condition that is characterized by jerking movements that occur every 20 to 40 seconds. The exact cause of RLS is not known, but it is believed that nerve damage or lack of iron and vitamin B12 may play a role.
► Soaking your legs in warm water will certainly provide relief. You can also add Epsom salt to water.
► Essential oils such as lavender and chamomile could be added to warm water for a foot soak. This will surely relax the fatigued muscles.
► Application of a heating pad will also provide relief. You can also apply hot compresses. Soak a clean towel in hot water. Wring the towel before wrapping your feet in it.
► A massage can relax the muscles and ease the tension caused due to the constant ache in your legs.
► Apply a pain-relieving ointment on the affected region of the foot, followed by wrapping the area with a crepe bandage.
► At times, pain may worsen due to cold weather. So, keep yourself warm by wrapping yourself in wool, flannel, or fleece blankets.
► Peel and mash two cloves of garlic and mix it with lukewarm olive oil. Apply this oil mixture on your legs with gentle, sweeping strokes. After the massage, wrap your legs in a warm blanket.
► Elevate your legs at night by propping them over a few pillows. This will improve the blood circulation.
► Follow a healthy diet. Include foods that are rich in roughage in your diet. Cut down on the intake of processed food.
► Drink plenty of water so as to prevent water retention in the ankles. This will help to regulate the blood flow, and keep leg pain at bay.
► Obesity could put a person at an increased risk of developing varicose veins. So, keep a tab on your weight.
Following the aforementioned remedies will surely help to alleviate leg pain. At times, wearing ill-fitting footwear could cause leg aches. So, make sure that you wear shoes that are comfortable. Do not indulge in strenuous physical activities that may cause overstretching of the muscles. Seek medical assistance if the pain persists. If pain is due to a medical condition, it will resolve once the condition is treated with drug therapy or other treatment options.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.