Can you pull a leg muscle - while sleeping?
October 13, 2013 3:19 AM   Subscribe

This has happened once or twice a year for a while. I'm asleep, and awake to find my leg (either one) feels really tight, strained and overtense, in the thigh and calf, like there are muscles there that are on the verge of ripping. It's very painful for a very short while - usually wakes me up screaming, and painful to walk on for an hour or two onwards, but then subsides during the day.

There's no swelling and no bruising. Other context: 45, male, overweight, on medication for blood pressure, having thyroid treatment. My sleep is variable. Prone to dehydration without realising. There's no environmental factors; it's random.

I'd rather not add this to the list of things I see the doctor about if it involves taking yet more meds.
posted by Wordshore to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Getting enough calcium? There is a connection to leg cramps.

Improving circulation may help. Would suggest regular walking and stretching of your legs. A strap or theraband makes the hamstring stretches a lot easier.

Also: hydrate hydrate hydrate.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 3:25 AM on October 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've had this occasionally. Usually after drinking and waking up hungover. I seem to wake up and in that moment realise what's happening and suddenly - argh leg pain! I think it's a Nocturnal leg cramp
posted by JonB at 3:25 AM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

This has been happening to me once ever few weeks. Exactly as you described. Comes on right as I'm waking (usually after sleeping more than usual). It does feel just like the calf muscle is tearing (though I'm sure it isn't as the pain is very temporary). But yeah, I have a high pain tolerance and it leaves me involuntarily screaming aloud in pain for about half a minute while it lasts. Brought it up to my doctor and he just kind of shrugged. So I'm really curious about this as well.
posted by WhitenoisE at 3:26 AM on October 13, 2013

Best answer: Leg cramps are painful as the dickens and your muscle 'ripping' description describes them perfectly. Night leg cramps are certainly A Thing (I don't know enough about them to say if they are common or not). According to the Mayo Clinic page some of your current conditions are known to increase the risk of night leg cramps. I get them occasionally and I don't have any of those factors. The pain fades during the day.

You might want to ask your doctor about it when you see them next, but I wouldn't make a special visit. There is a bit of info around about them.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:27 AM on October 13, 2013

Oh, and when it happens I try to gently stretch the opposite way of how I think I should, ie the 'tear it even more' direction. This helps a bit.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:30 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have had these occasionally, some people call them a "Charley horse". I find taking magnesium and eating a banana (for the potassium) before bed and making sure to hydrate adequately seems to prevent them.
posted by melissam at 3:38 AM on October 13, 2013 [15 favorites]

I got these when I was pregnant! flexing my foot made the pain disappear almost instantly.
posted by sabh at 3:46 AM on October 13, 2013

This seems like a basic Charley Horse. Drink more water, up your potassium and flex your foot up and down when they happen.
posted by mrfuga0 at 4:00 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I sometimes get leg cramps in the night, and it sounds like you do too. When it happens reach down and grab hold of your toes, and pull them upwards to stretch your calf. That always works for me.
posted by Ned G at 4:07 AM on October 13, 2013

Best answer: Yep, this is what we call a charley horse. I'm terrible at keeping hydrated and I definitely get them more often when I've been worse about drinking water during that day. They're the worst! The only thing that helps after I've gotten one is to consciously relax my whole body and breathe deeply to help the wake-up panic disperse, and then flexing my ankle to stretch the calf. Once I can stand up, I'll go chug a glass of water. These days, I drink a lot of tea, lots of different herbal and caffeine free ones mostly. I find the variety entices me enough to keep drinking throughout the day and I don't just forget entirely. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure I've had a charley horse for almost a year!
posted by Mizu at 4:17 AM on October 13, 2013

What helped me was magnesium. I also take a multivitamin/mineral pill every day.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:08 AM on October 13, 2013

Yup, it's a cramp. Pull on your toes when it happens and drink plenty of water at bedtime to avoid it happening at all.
posted by merocet at 6:10 AM on October 13, 2013

A daily pinch of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) stops those happening to me. And yes, dehydration makes them worse.
posted by flabdablet at 6:40 AM on October 13, 2013

Up your magnesium and potassium and stay hydrated. As others have said, flex when they are happening.
posted by wwax at 6:55 AM on October 13, 2013

Me too, and I bring it on myself because I dont' hydrate nearly enough. When I remember, I never get them.
posted by gaspode at 6:55 AM on October 13, 2013

I experience this about once a week, what I've been told is a side effect of Tamoxifen. Are you on any meds that might be causing it? There's a short unofficial list here. I can now sort of feel it coming during sleep and I can wake myself up and change position or get up and walk it off. Alcohol and dehydradtion exacerbate the frequency. The folk remedies I've read are quinine, although not at Rx dosages, and potassium. I eat a banana a day and keep tonic water on hand and drink some before bedtime, both of which probably only serve to makes me feel like I'm doing something to protect myself. It's pretty stressful. Good luck.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:02 AM on October 13, 2013

I also call them Charley Horses and have had them my entire life. It hurts like crazy, but flexing does help. I've never had much improvement by increasing magnesium or potassium so YMMV.
posted by royalsong at 7:02 AM on October 13, 2013

I used to get those too (no idea why, or why they seem to have stopped).

I found that stretching the muscle helped a bit but what worked best for some weird reason was getting out of bed and standing heavily on the affected leg, which made it go away immediately.
posted by randomnity at 7:20 AM on October 13, 2013

You didn't ask for a fix, but you're getting it, for free ;-) As soon as you feel it, get out of bed and immediately put all your weight on that leg, standing up straight. It seems counter intuitive to use those muscles, so you may have to convince your brain that it's OK, but it really erases it right away.
posted by Neeuq Nus at 7:26 AM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Another person who has been getting them her entire life here -- and usually only in my right leg. I don't have to even be asleep, just relaxed, and all of a sudden I'll just feel the tightness start and the next time I even use my calf muscle in the slightest I'll have a Charlie horse. They hurt like crazy -- way more than anything should to be considered normal, but there it is. Force yourself to get up and walk on it if you can, or just try and flex it out. As you noted they go away on their own, but sometimes you'll notice lingering after effects for a few hours -- I've found that that is lessened when I flex.
posted by cgg at 7:42 AM on October 13, 2013

Same here, usually in my foot or thigh, but occasionally elsewhere. Only immediate solution is to stretch and massage it.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:05 AM on October 13, 2013

had terrible one, mostly after a day or so of exercise--I am over 80--and doctor gave me muscle relaxant...too many side effects with those so avoid. But: discovered that electrolyte replacement and lots of water helps. Gatorade good for this but too sweet. Some stores now sell bottled water with electrolytes. And, as noted, lots of stretching after exercise.
posted by Postroad at 8:26 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

i get them in my calves especially when i spend a lot of time on my feet in heels (i see you're a dude so this may not be relevant.) i have gotten to the point now where i can feel them start and if you can do the flex/stretch thing that everyone's talking about as soon as you feel the muscle start to tighten, you CAN prevent it from getting to the screaming bloody murder stage.
posted by misskaz at 8:48 AM on October 13, 2013

Another voice in the fray, only my muscle seizes up so hard that it'd actually pull the muscle. No joke--not in the "it's a little sore for few hours" kind of way, but "I feel like I ran a marathon on one leg" sort of way, and it hurts like hell for a few days to a week.

Lots of electrolytes, fluids, and light exercise is what keeps it at bay for me.
posted by Zelos at 9:08 AM on October 13, 2013

I also get these in my calf occasionally if I don't remember to take magnesium. For me it doesn't require a lot, just 50% of the US RDA once a day or every other day. But I've tried a couple different brands/formulations and one of them didn't seem to work to prevent them, even taking two or three times as much. The ones that say "chelated magnesium" always have but this one was some other type.
posted by treese at 9:16 AM on October 13, 2013

Another vote for get up and stand as soon as you realize it's happening.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 9:50 AM on October 13, 2013

If proper water intake doesn't help, try quinine pills if you can get them over the counter in your state (and none of the warnings on the box apply to you). CVS carries them where it's legal.
posted by wierdo at 12:50 PM on October 13, 2013

I get these, too. (I, too, think of them as Charley Horses.)

What I've learned helps me most is to stand barefoot on cold tile.
posted by trip and a half at 3:25 PM on October 13, 2013

I used to get these fairly regularly until I realized I was flopping my toes forward with the sheet and blankets pulling them down and forward, sort of like arching your feet in the wrong direction. I would wake up with horrible cramps in my legs until I realized the problem was the sheets on my toes pressing them down in the wrong direction. Now I keep my toes back up a bit so the toes are pulled back toward my head rather than down toward the soles of my feet.
posted by diode at 5:28 PM on October 13, 2013

It's just a cramp. It can happen because of dehydration and/or low electrolytes, especially potassium. I used to get them in the morning before waking up, in my calves or the arch of my foot. They stopped when I started drinking more.
posted by WasabiFlux at 7:37 PM on October 13, 2013

I get these too. Like others said, water and potassium have helped me.

I've also found that they come on more if I kick my legs out of the blanket and it gets cold.

I try warmth and stretching (and cursing) when it happens. Getting up and walking around a minute or two can really help.

A few times I've had it happen to both calves at once. Lord help you if that happens.
posted by PlutoniumX at 8:55 AM on October 14, 2013

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