cramps (nocturnal)

FREE subscriptions for doctors and students... click here
You have 3 more open access pages.

Cramp at night is common. It is caused by entire muscles, or muscle groups, going into spasm. The episodes are transient and may be quite painful. Afterwards, the affected muscle(s) may be tender for up to 24 hours.

  • leg cramps are involuntary, painful contractions
    • usually occur in the calf or small muscles of the foot but can affect other parts of the leg
    • severity of the pain is variable and each attack can last up to a few minutes
    • leg cramps can affect both young and older people
      • in people aged 60 years and over on a general practice register, about a third reported cramps during the previous two months, and in those aged 80 years or over the proportion rose to half (1)
      • other groups in whom cramps are also common are pregnant women (45 per cent) and in 7 per cent of children (1)

Many conditions may cause cramp and it is important to exclude these before embarking upon treatment.


  • 1) Salih A. Leg cramps: the underlying causes and available treatment. Prescriber 2007;18(17):31-33

Last edited 05/2022 and last reviewed 06/2022