vertebrae showing normal versus central spinal stenosis with a text bubble saying spinal stenosis and leg cramps

Nighttime leg cramps are very common in patients with spinal stenosis.  Research has investigated why the connection between cramps and stenosis exists. We also see that managing the spinal stenosis can be helpful for the leg cramps, and furthermore help with long term nerve and muscle health.

More information on nighttime leg cramps is found here.

Nighttime Leg Cramps with Spinal Stenosis

The most treated symptoms in patients with spinal stenosis are leg pain, back pain, restless leg sensation, chills and tingling. Nighttime leg cramps are just as prevalent but often overlooked. About 70% of patients with spinal stenosis experience moderate to severe leg cramps regularly.

These cramps don’t only happen at nighttime, but rather, when the legs are in a rested state. They’re painful, involuntary contractions of the muscles in the lower limbs. There are numerous theories as to how these cramps occur, which is why treating them is often overlooked and unsuccessful.

The Link Between Cramps and Stenosis

As mentioned above, there are many theories as to how and why leg cramps occur in different patient populations. Now, we have a clearer idea of how cramps occur in those with spinal stenosis. This is promising because it will help individualize treatment.

EMG studies have shown [1] long term compression of the spinal nerves in the lumbar spine can cause damage to those nerves, and lead to cramps.

In a nutshell, this is how damage occurs [1]:

evolution of leg cramps in spinal stenosis from ion change to hypoxia to nerves to muscle cramps

How To Manage Leg Cramps with Spinal Stenosis

Evidence has compared surgical intervention and conservative treatment, and found conservative treatment is better for a lot of people [1].

Conservative treatment is basically rehabilitative exercise (specific to stenosis), sleep hygiene and proper diet and nutrition.

When you go to your physiotherapist to manage your lumbar stenosis, don’t forget to mention leg cramps if they are an issue for you. By addressing your stenosis, the cramps could be alleviated. Also keep in mind, there are a number of theories and contributing factors to night time leg cramps. At Absolute Health and Wellness, we will thoroughly assess you to determine the best treatment plan for you.

Interested in learning more?

Read on in our series of articles on Leg Cramps!


About the Author - Sonia Gashgarian

woman facing camera

Sonia Gashgarian is a registered physiotherapist who graduated with a Master of Science in Physical Therapy from the University of Toronto. Prior to this she completed her Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with Honours from the University of Waterloo. Sonia has completed courses in sports taping and basic kinesio-taping, as well as the McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy and Mulligan Concept. She also has her APTEI Acupuncture and Dry Needling Certification.

Sonia uses a variety of treatment techniques to help clients feel better and return to their regular activities as soon as possible. Her individualized treatments may include the following: education, joint mobilizations, exercise prescription, soft tissue release, trigger point release, taping, acupuncture and dry needling, cupping, and Gua Sha.

To book in please call us at (519) 442-2206 or click here.

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