Leg Pain at Night
Joan Marie Pellegrini, MD
There are many causes of leg pain at night.
Because of a frequently aired commercial, many people have now heard about restless leg syndrome or RLS. RLS is an irresistible urge to move your legs and is also accompanied by creeping, crawling tingling, burning, etc feelings. Because of this urge to move the legs, it is difficult to get a good night’s sleep. RLS is worse at night. RLS may occur at any age but becomes more common as we age. It usually has no identifiable cause but sometimes can be caused by iron deficiency, kidney failure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy, or certain medications. In order to treat RLS, one must see their healthcare provider to make sure there is not one of the previous causes. Next, there are several lifestyle changes that may help. These include an exercise program, heat and message before bedtime, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. If RLS is severe and not responsive to these changes, then there are several prescription medications that may relieve the symptoms. No medication will cure the disorder.
Other causes of leg pain at night might be:
Cramps (Charlie Horse). These are often due to muscle fatigue and dehydration with electrolyte inbalance. This will go away with stretching and messaging the muscle.
Muscle strain. This is usually preceded by strenuous activity during the day. This will go away with time.
A blood clot. This would rarely occur without some precipitating event such as trauma or an injury or a prolonged time of inactivity (such as a long car or plane ride). This is a serious condition and would warrant urgent evaluation by a healthcare provider.
Neuropathy. This is a disorder of the nerves often caused by diabetes. It may also be caused by a pinched nerve, some medications, and other diseases. This warrants attention by a healthcare provider.
Claudication. This is a lack of blood flow to the muscles because of hardening of the arteries to the legs. This pain usually improves when one hangs their leg over the bed or stands up. This also warrants attention by a healthcare provider.
Leg pain at night has a rather large list of possible causes some of which are self-limited and not serious and some which are fairly serious. If this pain lasts for than several days to weeks, it would be prudent to speak to your healthcare provider about it. Your provider will need to see you and will most likely ask many questions and do an exam before starting any workup or treatment program.