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A visualization of a young woman experiencing leg muscle cramps in her calf.

Leg Muscle Cramps

What’s the Connection Between Leg Muscle Cramps and Peripheral Neuropathy?

Leg muscle cramps — or involuntary contractions of your legs and feet at night — are also known as nocturnal leg cramps, and they can cause serious pain, sleep disruption patterns, and health issues. Several factors, including Peripheral Neuropathy, can contribute to these cramps, although the exact cause is unknown.

The most common causes of muscle cramps while sleeping include muscle fatigue, overuse, dehydration, nerve compression, medications, and underlying medical conditions. In addition to overuse, strenuous exercise, standing or walking for long periods, and not stretching regularly can cause muscle fatigue. At the same time, dehydration can cause electrolyte imbalances in potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Even certain heart, blood pressure, and cholesterol medications — such as statins, diuretics, and beta-blockers — can cause leg cramps. There are also underlying health conditions that can cause issues as well, such as kidney disease, diabetes, pregnancy, and thyroid problems.

Peripheral Neuropathy, however, can cause nerve compression and muscle spasms, especially at nighttime when you’re sleeping. Calf, foot, thigh, or toe pain can occur suddenly, followed by tightness or stiffness in the affected muscle.


How Peripheral Neuropathy and Leg Muscle Cramps are Connected

If you’re having Peripheral Neuropathy issues, nerve damage outside your brain and spinal cord can lead to leg muscle cramps, which entails damage to motor neurons, hyper-excitability of your nerves, Impaired Proprioception, and electrolyte imbalances.

When neurons — which transmit signals from the brain to the muscles — are damaged and send erratic signals, it results in involuntary muscle contractions. A common example is Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a rare disorder that gradually damages the nervous system. A damaged nerve may become hypersensitive to stimuli, such as changes in temperature or pressure, causing spontaneous muscle firing and spasms (called hyper-excitability and also sometimes known as Peripheral Nerve Hyper-excitability Syndrome).

Impaired Proprioception is a condition where your body can’t perceive its position in space. Peripheral Neuropathy can impair this “space” sense, resulting in spasms, since muscles cannot relax and contract as they should. On top of this, a lack of electrolytes can also be a problem. Electrolyte imbalances cause muscle cramps and spasms in patients with Peripheral Neuropathy, especially when they also suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes or kidney disease.

While all of these factors can lead to muscle weakness and atrophy — making muscles more susceptible to fatigue — poor circulation can also contribute to muscle cramps while sleeping in patients suffering from Peripheral Neuropathy. As a result, muscles become even more prone to spasms, due to decreased blood flow.


Causes and Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral Neuropathy is caused by a variety of factors, not the least of which is diabetes, which are both oftentimes directly or indirectly connected to leg muscle cramps. High blood sugar levels can damage nerves over time, resulting in Peripheral Neuropathy in up to 70 percent of all diabetics in the United States.

Alcohol abuse and vitamin deficiencies are also contributing factors to Peripheral Neuropathy. Vitamins B1, B6, B12, and E are essential for your body to conduct basic nerve functions. In addition to damaging nerves directly, alcohol interferes with the absorption of vitamins important for nerve health.

Don’t disregard autoimmune diseases, infections, or injuries either. Autoimmune diseases like Guillain-Barre Syndrome (the immune system harms the nerves), Lupus, and Rheumatoid Arthritis can cause neuropathy. Viral infections such as Shingles and Epstein-Barr can also cause nerve damage. Not to mention, physical trauma like a car accident, a bad fall, or some other physical altercation can cause nerve damage as well.

Exposure to toxins (lead, arsenic, and mercury) and chemotherapy drugs can also cause Peripheral Neuropathy — as a side effect. Additionally, numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness can be inflicted by a range of inherited disorders, including Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease (a defect that causes abnormalities in nerves within your limbs).

While there might be other causes besides the ones listed above that lead to muscle cramps while sleeping, it’s important to visit a pain management specialist or doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy. Stay focused on determining the underlying cause so you can receive appropriate treatment.


Poor Blood Circulation, Leg Muscle Cramps, Factors, and Risks

Peripheral Neuropathy, poor blood circulation, and leg muscle cramps are all closely related through cause-and-effect factors and shared risks. First, a lack of oxygen and nutrients can damage and impair nerve function when blood flow to your nerves is restricted, with pain, numbness and tingling being some of the symptoms.

In addition to malnutrition and low oxygen, poor blood circulation can also be a direct cause of Peripheral Neuropathy. Damaged nerves can disrupt the signals controlling blood vessels, leading to reduced blood flow and circulation to certain areas. Nerve damage can get more aggravated, worsening your symptoms.

You can find some of the most common shared-risk factors in the above sections of this article. These are in addition to diabetes, autoimmune diseases, vascular diseases (such as Atherosclerosis or Peripheral Artery Disease), and vitamin deficiencies. As a result, Peripheral Neuropathy and poor blood circulation may worsen each other’s symptoms. They intertwine with these other shared risks. Having poor blood circulation, for example, can make it difficult for the body to deliver nutrients and oxygen to your nerves.

On the other hand, damaged nerves can disrupt the signals that control your blood vessels, causing further reductions in blood flow and even more muscle cramps while sleeping.


Peripheral Neuropathy Treatment and Underlying Causes

Your body can stimulate nerve regeneration and resolve Peripheral Neuropathy when underlying causes are corrected, nipping your leg muscle cramps in the bud. Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding toxic exposures, eating a balanced diet, and correcting vitamin deficiencies can enhance nerve health and strength.

Exercising can also help, improving muscle strength, increasing blood flow to nerve endings, and limiting muscle atrophy. Diabetics and others with impaired pain perception can benefit from self-care skills to alleviate symptoms and induce nerve regeneration. Neuropathy can be reduced and further nerve damage avoided by strictly controlling your blood glucose levels.

When it comes to neuropathy and muscle cramps:

  • Drink plenty of water. Keep hydrated throughout the day by drinking liquids and fluids. After exercise, it’s important to drink water and other liquids to replenish your fluids.
  • Stretch before bedtime. You should stretch before going to sleep at night.
  • Engage in light exercise. You may prevent muscle cramps while sleeping by riding a stationary bike for a few minutes before bedtime.
  • Make sure your shoes are right for you. Leg cramps may be prevented by wearing shoes with proper support.
  • Let the covers hang loose. At the foot of the bed, loosen or untuck your bedsheets.
  • Get enough electrolytes. If you are deficient in electrolytes, speak with your doctor or pain management specialist about taking supplements.
  • Take a warm bath or shower. Relaxing your muscles and improving circulation can be achieved by taking a warm bath or shower before bed.
  • Massage yourself. Massage your calves and feet gently to relieve tension and improve blood flow.
  • Find an effective sleep position. A pillow inserted under your calf — and slightly flexed feet — may help you sleep better.

A pain management specialist can determine the underlying cause of your muscle cramps. Don’t let them continue ruining your life.


Wellness and Pain Can Help

A range of options for treating leg muscle cramps are available at Wellness and Pain. We offer conservative treatments, routine visits, and minimally invasive quick-recovery procedures. We can keep you free of problems by providing lifestyle education and home care advice to help you avoid and manage issues, quickly relieving the inhibiting lifestyle conditions when complications arise.

At Wellness and Pain, we personalize patient care plans based on each patient’s condition and unique circumstances to relieve pain, improve mobility and mental space, and improve your overall health.

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Wellness and Pain accepts most major insurance plans. Here is a list of some of the major insurance plans we accept. If you do not see your insurance plan listed, please call our office to confirm.

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