If Aching Legs Keep You Up at Night, Try These 5 Simple Strategies From a Pain Management Specialist
Experiencing aching legs at night is both common and confusing, according to Randa Jaafar, MD, a pain management specialist and anesthesiologist. It can be tough to figure out exactly what's causing the discomfort. But, as long as there's no underlying medical condition, there are a few easy steps you can take at home that (usually) bring some relief so you can finally catch some quality zzzs.
What can cause aching legs at night?
There's a laundry list of reasons why your legs may be aching at night, ranging from minor annoyances to more serious health issues. According to Dr. Jaafar, some of the common causes include muscle cramps from dehydration, muscle or tendon inflammation from injuries, blood clots, electrolyte imbalances, or varicose veins. Yet certain medical conditions, such as restless leg syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, arthritis, vascular diseases like peripheral artery disease and/or deep vein thrombosis, spinal stenosis, and sciatica, can also cause your legs to ache at night.
That's quite a list, but don't panic. When it comes to spooky symptoms, the best thing you can do is listen to your body and act accordingly. Dr. Jafaar says that it's crucial to seek medical care if your leg aches are severe and continuous, or if you're experiencing swelling, redness, warmth, fever, or difficulty breathing. This is also true if you have uneven aches in your legs or aching in only one leg. Tests like X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs may be necessary to diagnose an underlying condition.
If you're not experiencing the above symptoms, then take a deep breath. (Well, you're invited to take a breath regardless). You're likely experiencing something you can soothe on your own. Dr. Jaafar recommends trying some of these mitigating techniques.
1. Drink some water (possibly with electrolytes)
Since aching legs at night can come from dehydration and subsequent muscle cramps, you may want to start by having some water. If you were super active earlier that day, supplement it with a packet of Liquid IV or a Nuun tablet to make sure your body has all the electrolytes it needs.
2. Stretch your legs by walking around
Getting up to get a glass of water actually serves two purposes: rehydrating and stretching those legs. Walking around can give your legs a little movement, which can help your circulation. Even if you keep a bottle of water next to your bed, get up and take a stroll around to see if it helps.
3. Add some heat and cooling
Consider applying some hot or cold compresses on your legs and alternating every 15 to 20 minutes. Going back and forth between hot and cold temperatures can encourage more blood flow and could decrease your pain.
4. Wear compression socks
A lot of people with various chronic pain conditions and illnesses really benefit from wearing compression socks, says Dr. Jaafar. They apply gentle pressure to the legs, which helps to improve blood flow and prevent blood from pooling in the lower extremities, according to the Mayo Clinic. Compression socks mostly help when you're sitting, standing, or walking, so you'll want to try wearing them during the day to see if that helps your aching legs at night.
5. Elevate your legs
Putting your feet up on a pillow or even resting them up on a wall is a great way to support your circulation by using gravity to your advantage: If the pain is from the pooling of blood or fluid in your legs, this could help even things out.
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