Leg Cramps at Night in Elderly | Causes, Treatment, Prevention

Nocturnal leg cramps in geriatric persons normally occur when they are asleep or inactive. These cramps are uncomfortable for some people and painful for others. For some, the pain can be unbearable. Leg cramps usually occur in the calf, thigh, or foot and can be defined as sudden and involuntary muscle pain that is intense. The pain usually forces the affected person to wake up and makes it more challenging for them to fall back asleep due to the lingering soreness after the cramps have passed. Although leg cramps can affect anyone, older adults are more likely to experience them because their tendons have shortened as they age. Older women are more likely to be affected than their male counterparts.

What Causes Leg Cramps in the Elderly?

A variety of factors can cause leg cramps [1] among the elderly. In some cases, they are caused by a combination of at least two of the factors discussed below.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Muscles in the human require regular stretching for normal functioning. Sitting for an extended period increases the risk of leg cramps. In particular, the elderly’s legs are more susceptible to cramps because their bodies are not as active as before.

Muscle Overexertion

There are people in the geriatric age who are still very active. These people may overwork their muscles and cause muscle cramps in the feet, thighs, or calves.

Shortening of Tendons

As we age, the tendons shorten. Tendons connect your muscles to the bones. When they shorten, leg cramps could occur.

Improper Sitting Position

If an older adult sits with their legs crossed for extended periods, the calf muscles shorten. This could cause painful cramping.

Certain Medications

We all know that drugs come with side effects. Some medications have leg cramps as one of the side effects. These include diuretics, statins, conjugated estrogens, among others.

Neurological Disease

Disorders and diseases that affect the lower motor neurons, such as polyneuropathy, usually cause leg cramps.

Other Medical Conditions

It is not uncommon to experience idiopathic leg cramps, that is, cramps that happen for no reason. However, leg cramps at night among the elderly may indicate underlying health or medical condition. If you suspect this may be the case, you should consult a doctor as soon as you can. People undergoing cancer treatment often experience nerve damage that is associated with leg cramps. Cardiovascular diseases, liver cirrhosis, diabetes, hypokalemia, kidney failure, osteoarthritis, and peripheral artery disease are some of the diseases that cause leg cramps.


Older adults who consume excess alcohol are more prone to leg cramps.


Inadequate water intake among the elderly causes leg cramps. This problem is more common in this group of people because advanced age often comes with hypodipsia or reduced thirst sensation.

Treating Leg and Calf Cramps

It is crucial to take steps to resolve leg cramps [2] the minute they strike. If you have experienced leg cramps before, you already know that you can take no magic pill to ease the pain or soreness. However, you can treat leg and calf cramps by doing the following:


Straighten the leg and flex it a few times. Ensure you pull the toes towards the shin to stretch the leg muscles.

Massage the Legs

Most older adults cannot reach their legs without straining. If you cannot use your hands to massage your leg muscles, you can request someone else to do it for you. Alternatively, you can use a roller to massage your leg muscles.

Stand Up

If standing and walking are not a challenge, you can stand on the floor to manage leg cramps. By standing, you press the leg muscles against the floor, and this reduces pain and pressure. You can also walk around if standing does not do the trick.

Heat/ Cold Application

Taking a warm bath or using a heating pad can relieve leg cramps. The heat soothes the muscles. Similarly, applying a bag of ice to the affected area could help relieve pain.

Elevate Your Legs

Propping up the legs tends to reduce the pain caused by leg cramping.

Take Painkillers

If the leg cramps are severe, taking over-the-counter painkillers may help. You should seek medical attention for severe leg cramps.

How to Stop Leg Cramps Before They Start

By now, you know that leg cramps are annoying, painful, and they disrupt sleep. You can prevent leg cramps before they happen by implementing the tips discussed below.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Although most elderly persons have a reduced thirst sensation, it is very important to ensure they take adequate water and other fluids. Fluids are necessary for normal muscle functioning. When you take enough fluids, the risk of leg cramps significantly reduces.

Stretch Your Legs Often

All elderly persons should make it a routine to stretch their legs to prevent leg cramps. The best time to stretch your legs is before bed for the best results. Routinely stretching your legs will prevent the frequency and severity of the cramps. Riding a stationary bike for a couple of minutes helps in stretching the muscles of the lower limbs. Alternatively, you can invest in one of the best exercise peddlers for seniors to help with your exercise routine.

Always Wear Supportive Footwear

The wrong choice of footwear places pressures on the nerves and muscles in the lower limbs, especially if you have flat feet. This results in more painful and frequent leg cramps. On the other hand, supportive footwear ensures the leg muscles and nerves do not get too much pressure, hence reducing nocturnal leg cramps.

Adjust Your Sleeping Position and Bedding

Sleeping with your feet pointing downwards increases the risk of leg cramps, so you should avoid this position.

Instead, try sleeping on your back. Place a pillow behind your knees, as this position reduces the risk of nocturnal leg cramps. Adjusting the sleeping position should be accompanied by choosing bedding that is not very heavy or tucked-in as it pushes your feet downwards as you sleep. Instead, choose loose and untucked sheets and a comforter that will allow your feet and toes to remain upright at night.

When to See a Doctor

For most people, leg cramps are not serious, and neither do they require medical attention. However, the elderly are quite fragile, so it is important to be cautious whenever they report having leg cramps. You should see your doctor immediately if the leg cramps are accompanied by redness, skin changes, severe pain, and leg swelling.

When you visit the doctor, you will have to describe your symptoms in detail and explore your medical history. It is also essential to give details of the prescription and non-prescription drugs you are taking. The doctor may or may not conduct some tests to diagnose any underlying medical condition.


Leg cramps are very common among the elderly. If they occur once in a while, they should not be a reason to worry. However, frequent leg cramps could be a sign of an underlying medical condition. It is crucial to know that leg cramps among the elderly can be caused by different reasons. Taking some preventative measures is a great step towards reducing the frequency and intensity of leg cramps.


  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/leg-cramps-at-night#causes
  2. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14170-leg-cramps
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