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Why do I get charley horses in my calves when I'm sleeping?

Sometimes during the night I wake up with a really painful charley horse. It hurts so much I have to grit my teeth to keep from yelling. It takes a few minutes to get the cramp to go away, which I do by rubbing on the place that's knotted up and walking around. I'm a 42-year-old woman, and I walk about 30 minutes a day for exercise. I don't experience leg cramps any other time except in my sleep. Why is this happening, and is there anything I can do to prevent it? It usually occurs once or twice a week, and more often in my right leg (I tend to sleep on my right side).
Those of us that get night time leg cramps know how painful they can be. Leg cramps occur because the muscle involuntarily contracts without initially relaxing. The causes can range from abnormalities in your blood potassium to rare neurological diseases. The first question I would want to ask you would be about your diet and the amount of fluids you drink during the day. These two factors can effect your blood potassium levels. Muscle cramping and spasming can happen in patient who have multiple sclerosis, but it would be very unusual for this to happen only in the night, and only in the leg. I suggest that you schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. He or she can dig deeper into why your are having these leg cramps. Your doctor will likely want to draw some blood work to look at your blood electrolyte levels and perform a thorough neurological exam. If nothing is found on exam, and your blood work looks good, then you may just start off with conservative management with increased fluid intake. You can also try exercises that target the calf which may help that muscle calm down during the night. If that does not work, then perhaps a prescription muscle relaxer such as cyclobenzeprine would be helpful. Good luck.
This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under ZocDoc’s Terms of Service.
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