5 Ways to Relieve Aching Legs at Night
You’ve brushed your teeth, put on your pajamas, turned off the light and crawled in bed. You close your eyes, ready to drift off to sleep, but your aching legs won’t let you be. If you often find yourself unable to fall asleep, wondering, "why do my legs ache at night?" you're not alone.
Whether this condition is temporary or chronic, tired, aching legs at night are very common— and frustrating. Thankfully, there are multiple steps you can take to refresh your legs and boost your sleep quality. Below, we briefly explain possible causes of aching legs before diving into five solutions that can help you manage your symptoms.
Causes of Aching Legs
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can cause aching legs when lying down, commonly called rest pain. When gravity is no longer helping arterial blood reach your feet, it can lead to severe pain.
- Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) can cause aching legs at night due to high pressure in the veins and stagnant venous blood from sitting or standing all day. Proper daily leg elevation can help relieve this pressure.
- Nervousness and restless leg syndrome usually result in legs that feel heavy, jittery, and shaky. Movement usually helps shake out these symptoms (more on solutions in the next section).
- Lastly, joint and muscle soreness or stiffness can result in aching legs. This may be due to a variety of causes, from an arthritis flare-up to a strenuous leg workout.
How to Relieve Aching Legs at Night
If you're dealing with restless leg syndrome at night, a quick but light massage is often enough stimulation to make symptoms go away. However, if sore muscles are the cause of your tired legs, a deeper massage will better help dissipate some of the discomfort. You can give yourself a massage using your hands or a foam roller – or treat yourself by booking a treatment with a professional massage therapist.
A warm bath or shower before bed will help you feel drowsy and further ease sore muscles. Heat packs can also be used to target especially sore muscles or stiff joints. However, if swelling is your main problem, you’ll want to use cold therapy instead. Cold constricts your blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the area and discouraging fluid retention, which helps swelling subside.
While in some cases, physical movement might be the cause of your tired, aching legs, in other situations, it can be a simple solution to pain relief. For instance, a brief walk to the bathroom or kitchen can help dispel restless leg syndrome at night if a quick massage doesn’t do the trick. Simply getting out of bed for quick physical movement can help cease symptoms.
As soon as you step out of bed in the morning, your veins are having to work against gravity, as the veins transport blood from your feet all the way up to your heart. This often results in high pressure in the veins, stagnant venous blood flow, and swelling – which can lead to the aching, heavy, tired feeling that you experience at the end of the day. Leg elevation, if done correctly, allows you to take advantage of gravity to lower the pressure in the veins, improve venous blood flow, and reduce swelling. However, if done incorrectly, leg elevation is ineffective, and you may risk worsening symptoms. Ensure you are adhering to proper practice with this simple guide to leg elevation.
Daily leg elevation can be easily incorporated into your everyday leg health routine. Elevating them for 15 to 20 minutes right before you go to bed will give your legs a head start on removing the fluid that has accumulated in them during the day, so you can avoid aching legs when lying down to sleep for the night. It will also lower the pressure in your veins so that you can sleep comfortably and wake up with legs that feel rested and energized. Using a leg elevation pillow like the Lounge Doctor Leg Rest can help properly elevate your legs for optimal results.
The best way to treat symptoms is to prevent them from appearing in the first place, and that’s where compression therapy comes in. While in most cases compression garments usually shouldn’t be worn to bed, wearing them during the day can help prevent the symptoms that cause tired, aching legs and keep you up at night. Compression socks boost circulation and reduce swelling, which will help your legs feel good at the end of the day.
Aching legs are a downright pain, but with the right combination of prevention tips and symptom management, you can keep them from disturbing your beauty sleep anymore. Follow these strategies to relieve your aching legs at night, and we wish you sweet dreams.
Kaki Zell - Vice President of Sales, Marketing, eCommerce at Legs-4-Life LLC Kaki holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Management from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She’s been working in the medical device industry for over 11 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greensboro Science Center.
Medically Reviewed February 2021
Dr. Chris Dickson, M.D., is a board-certified vascular surgeon and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons who received his M.D. Degree from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and has received general surgery training from the Medical College of Pennsylvania. Dr. Dickson has obtained two vascular fellowships and three research fellowships and has also had authored 19 publications and two book chapters. Since 1996, Dr. Dickson has been in practice in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Written May 2018 | Page last updated November 2021
Mayo Clinic. “Leg Pain Causes” https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/leg-pain/basics/causes/sym-20050784
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet” https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Restless-Legs-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet
Healthline. “Treating Pain with Heat and Cold” https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-pain/treating-pain-with-heat-and-cold
Merrick Surgical Supplies & Home Care. “5 Health Benefits to Elevation Your Legs” https://www.merricksurgical.com/blog/post/5-health-benefits-of-elevating-your-legs-