Why Do My Legs Hurt at Night?

Woman in bed woken up by a leg pain.

It seems logical that once you are off your feet and in bed, any leg pain you have should go away. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Certain conditions may cause leg pain at night or an achy feeling as you try to go to sleep. If you wonder, “Why do my legs hurt at night?” there are a few possible reasons.

What causes achy legs at night? If your legs hurt at night, it can be for a wide variety of reasons. Nerves, muscles, circulation and many other factors can contribute to leg discomfort that seems to be worse at night than during the day. Most night leg pain conditions are not critical, but it is important to know the cause.

Common Causes of Leg Pain at Night

If you experience achy or painful legs once you are off your feet and ready to get rest for the night, it may be for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the pain was there the whole time, but your mind was occupied with other things throughout the day. Other conditions may become worse once you lay down.

Finding the source of your pain is the first step to getting relief. Most causes of leg pain can be resolved with a few changes to your lifestyle, nutrition, activity or medications. The following are non-critical causes of achy legs at night.

Muscle Cramps

The leg cramp or “Charley Horse” is one of the most common leg pain issues that occurs at night. Most people experience these painful episodes during their REM sleep, jolting them awake with cramps in their calves or other legs parts. Some of the possible cause of leg cramps at night include:

  • Tight muscles from exercise and activity during the previous day
  • Dehydration
  • Insufficient electrolytes or minerals
  • Medications

If you have leg pain at night from muscle cramps, consider the possible causes. If they occur regularly, it may be a side effect of a medication you are using. Changing medications, staying hydrated, stretching your leg muscles and consuming more electrolytes may be the solution for your achy legs at night.

Leg or Feet Nerve Pain

Nerve pain in the legs and feet may be more noticeable at night. There are two common areas for nocturnal nerve pain in the lower extremities – the back of the thigh and the feet. While nerve pain can be felt anywhere in the legs, these are common areas due to the nerves that are affected.

Sciatic Leg Pain

The sciatic nerves exit the lower spine and travel down the back of the buttocks into each leg. If the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated, it can cause shooting pain into the leg. This can occur at night due to pressure on the nerve when you lay in certain positions.

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Foot Nerve Pain

Diabetes and foot nerve pain are linked, but anyone can experience foot nerve pain. This is a condition that may be present during the day but once your body and mind are still, you are more aware of the burning, tickling or shooting pain from aggravated nerves.

There are treatments to control nerve irritation that causes foot or leg pain at night. Receiving treatment for sciatica or related spine conditions may be recommended. If you have diabetes or other conditions causing foot pain, your doctor may have treatment options for relief.

Restless Leg Syndrome

One of the other common reasons legs hurt at night is a condition cause restless leg syndrome. Individuals with this condition have trouble keeping their legs still due to pain when trying to sleep at night. Many people can get relief from restless leg syndrome with some lifestyle changes, including:

  • Eliminating or limiting use of tobacco, alcohol and caffeine
  • Checking for a nutritional deficiency
  • Soaking, stretching and massaging legs before bedtime
  • Check medications for possible side effects

If you continue to have restless leg syndrome that impacts your sleep, you may need to seek treatment from your doctor.

Urgent Leg Pain Conditions

Sudden onset of leg pain can be a symptom of serious health conditions. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) usually occurs in the leg and is a serious blood clot that can lead to a pulmonary embolism. The pain is usually accompanied by a red and warm area on the leg – medical attention should be sought immediately.

Blocked arteries can also cause leg or foot pain at night. Once you are off your feet, gravity is no longer assisting the blood to reach your lower legs. This can result in pain, but even worse, damage to the tissue. It may be caused by peripheral artery disease and should be treated by your doctor.
A man in pyjamas suffering from leg pain sitting on his bed.
What causes achy legs at night? It can be a wide assortment of issues. While most are not serious, anything that interrupts your sleep can cause health concerns. Talk to your doctor to find the cause of your leg pain at night to get relief and the rest you need.