Starting off on the wrong feet: what to do about waking to foot & leg pain?
December 17, 2009 9:06 PM   Subscribe

When I wake up, I have lately been vexed with a dull pain in my lower legs and especially feet that reminds me of a long day of walking... .

...except that on my job I don't spend much time of my feet. So, YANMP (Podiatrist), to get that out of the way. This is nothing like the descriptions of plantar fascitis or bunions, which seems to be a much higher and sharper grade pain than this, and my arches are intact. This simply feels like I've been on an all day walk, when much of my working day is spent seated or occasionally on my feet at the hospital but not for extended periods. I have sensible shoes and can't grok other potential factors. I have no coldness or numbness, just this annoying ache. I do question if it's related to the two meniscectomies I've had (both knees) over the past three years. I have a great MD to inquire to if needed but without health insurance I'm holding off for only dire situations. Thanks in advance.
posted by moonbird to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When I'm cold I tend to sleep with one foot smooshed around the other foot. Then when I wake up I can't walk very well for a bit. It hurts in the arches. I didn't notice what I was doing for a long long time. I have to make sure my feet are in a normal position before falling asleep, but they still sneak into that position. (It's very comfortable while I'm lying down, but then it kills me when I first start walking around in the morning.)
posted by artychoke at 9:55 PM on December 17, 2009

Best answer: Your feet naturally extend when you lie down & sleep. This shortens up the muscles/tendons in the back of your lower leg. I think it's fairly common then, due to stress or whatever makes us do this type of thing, to subconsciously tighten up those lower leg muscles while asleep.

This can make your feet/legs feel like you've been walking on them all night, but particularly with those muscles on the back of your calf that are shortened as you sleep, it can sort of tighten them in that position. Thus the sort of pain and stiffness on first arising.

So this may or may not be happening to you, but if you just start paying attention to what you're feeling down there you'll soon know whether it is or not. Do you tend to sort of tighten up your foot & lower leg muscles when you're otherwise occupied (ie, watching tv, driving, working on the computer)? How about when you're asleep? (Note how the whole area feels when you get up in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning.

I find it helpful to get in the habit of stretching my lower legs several times each night (it's not that hard to get in the habit of doing it whenever you happen to notice a bit of tightening down there). Just flex your foot upward to about a 90 degree angle for a few seconds and allow that stretch to happen in the lower rear part of your leg.

Again this may or may not be happening to you but it's worth paying attention to to see if it is. When I wake up with feet hurting as though I've been walking this sort of thing is pretty much always the cause.
posted by flug at 10:14 PM on December 17, 2009

Hi! Medical student here. I think you should pony up the cash to see your doctor.

There are lots of things I can think of that could be causing this, and a few of them are serious (i.e., vascular problems, neuropathies, myopathies of one sort or another), so why be penny-wise but pound-foolish?
posted by killdevil at 10:42 PM on December 17, 2009

FWIW, my legs hurt for a while when getting out of bed. Got a new mattress, cleared it up completely.
posted by gijsvs at 2:08 AM on December 18, 2009

I have fibromyalgia. Some mornings it's like walking on knives for a few steps.

A highly respected person in the medical community told me of a trick that might help you. It sounds weird, but no harm, no foul, right? Take a bar of soap. Not deodorant! I used Ivory. Unwrap it, and place it at the foot of the bed, under the bottom sheet so it stays in place.

Some people have SWORN that this helps stop their leg cramps and foot pain! (FWIW, I didn't really notice an increase or decrease in my foot pain.)

Also, try massaging between your toes. You would be surprised at the microspasms that can develop there, and how tender and painful they can make your feet! I put my finger between the toes, and if I feel pain, I massage that toe, then move on to the next. Cured me of the pain of Morton's Foot!
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 4:36 AM on December 18, 2009

Best answer: Seconding flug. I always flex my feet up and down as far as I can a few times before getting out of bed. Otherwise the muscles down my calves and through the bottom of my feet are so tight, it really hurts to put weight on them. The other thing that might help, especially if you sleep on your back, is to untuck the sheets and blankets at the bottom of the bed. When they're tight, they weigh down your feet and keep them more pointed as you sleep. That's when those muscles stiffen up.
posted by vytae at 7:23 AM on December 18, 2009

Are you sleeping in a position that might cut off a bit of the circulation to your legs? Like are you lying on your side with one leg on top of the other? This could cause weirdness when you wake up.
posted by CathyG at 8:08 AM on December 18, 2009

Oh, and I'll ask the other sort-of-silly-sort-of-obvious question - do you sleepwalk? Are you running marathons during the night? Maybe set up something like a thread across the doorway or some flour on the floor next to your bed and check it in the morning to see if you have gotten out of bed without knowing.
posted by CathyG at 8:10 AM on December 18, 2009

A highly respected person in the medical community told me of a trick that might help you. It sounds weird, but no harm, no foul, right? Take a bar of soap. Not deodorant! I used Ivory. Unwrap it, and place it at the foot of the bed, under the bottom sheet so it stays in place.

Is there any evidence for this idea of any kind?

Just wondering.
posted by rr at 9:51 AM on December 18, 2009

FWIW: Oddly, I encounter this feeling also occasionally. Recently I started connecting that when I start taking a multivitamin pill (kirkland from costco) regularly, it starts occuring. So, it seems that one (or a combination) of the many vitamins in that pill seems to be triggering that dull pain I feel in my lower legs.
posted by edman at 9:57 AM on December 18, 2009

Response by poster: The answers about tightening muscles make a lot of sense- I've been under a lot of stress and I can see how my body would work things out this way. I will bring this to my MD's attention when I see her next, to be on the safe side. Thanks, all!
posted by moonbird at 10:00 PM on December 19, 2009

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