Published on Feb 23, 2022 and last reviewed on Mar 05, 2023 - 5 min read
Leg cramps are sudden, intense muscle pains that usually occur in the calf, thigh, or feet. Please read the article to understand more about leg cramps.
Leg cramps are also called Charley horses. It is a common problem affecting the feet, thigh muscles, and calves. They suddenly cause painful, involuntary contractions of a leg muscle.
Leg cramps most commonly occur when a person is resting or sleeping. They go away within a few seconds, but the normal duration for a leg cramp is 10 minutes. They can cause muscle tenderness for a day after it appears.
They are harmless but the reason why leg cramps happen all of a sudden is unknown. Sometimes they can indicate underlying conditions, such as diabetes.
In most cases, the reason for leg cramps to happen is unknown. The following are some of the reasons; they are,
Nerve dysfunction and muscle fatigue may play a role.
Sleeping or relaxing with the foot stretched and calf muscles shortened may be a cause.
It is also said that cramps are more likely to occur nowadays because most people do not squat, which is a position that stretches the calf muscles.
Continuous use of a muscle for a long time may induce a leg cramp during or after the exertion.
Performing strenuous exercise can also be a factor for leg cramps.
Athletes most often get muscle cramps, especially when the body is out of condition, and start the practice after a long time.
Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances may trigger leg cramps.
Elderly people are more likely to get leg cramps because muscle loss starts in the 40s and increases when we are inactive. It is said that 7% of children and 50 to 60% of adults experience leg cramps, and the likelihood increases with age.
Certain medications may also increase the risk of leg cramps; they are:
Iron sucrose (Venofer).
10. Sometimes leg cramps occur due to underlying conditions relating to the circulation, nervous system, hormones, or metabolism. Some of the conditions causing leg cramps are:
Chronic kidney failure.
Motor neuron disease.
Spinal nerve irritation or compression.
Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Hardening of the arteries.
Diabetes, mostly type 2 diabetes.
The person experiencing a leg cramp feels like being held by something, tightening of the muscle like a knot, and muscle contraction. It causes a sudden piercing pain which is unbearable and severely uncomfortable. After the cramp goes away, the muscle in the area might hurt for hours.
The following steps help to ease cramping; they are,
Do not indulge in activities that cause leg cramps.
Massage and stretch the muscle around the area.
When the cramp occurs, the leg should be in an extended position until the cramp stops.
Apply heat in the area where the muscles are tight or tense.
Use cold packs on the areas where the muscles are tender.
In order to reduce muscle cramps, some people use supplements such as magnesium. But it is said by older adults that these supplements were unlikely to benefit from this treatment. For pregnant women, it is unknown whether these supplements help or not.
When severe leg cramps occur, leaving a muscle feeling tender, then an over-the-counter (OTC) painkiller is needed. Before, people used Quinine, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urges people not to use this medicine because it may have dangerous interactions and side effects. During pregnancy, multivitamins may also be helpful. Still, there is no proper evidence that exercise, stretching, Carisoprodol, calcium channel blockers, and vitamin B-12 supplements may help with leg cramps.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), potassium, or calcium supplements are not found to be of any benefit, and in order to prevent leg cramps, no medication is needed. The following are some methods to treat leg muscle cramps.
Exercises and Stretches:
When there is no underlying cause that causes this condition, then leg cramps will probably get better on their own without treatment. Leg cramps can be relieved by walking on tiptoes as it helps to stretch the muscles.
In addition, stretching exercises may help, and when the cramp is in the calf muscle, try to do the following stretches.
Hamstring Muscle Stretch:
First, sit on the floor. Stretch the legs straight in front. Then, pull the toes upward towards the knee so that it stretches the calf muscle. Hold this position for at least half a minute and then relax.
Calf Muscle Stretch:
Place both feet flat on the ground and stand about one meter away from the wall. Then lean forward against the wall with the hands flat on the wall and arms outstretched. Hold this position for 10 seconds, and then slowly return to the normal position. Repeat this stretch 5 to 10 times a day.
Quadriceps Muscle Stretch:
This stretch needs a chair or a wall to hold or support, and the person is asked to stand up straight. One foot should be pulled up toward the buttocks, grasp the foot and ankle, and hold it as far as possible. Hold this position close to the body for 30 seconds, and then repeat with the other foot.
All these exercises help to relieve and prevent cramps. They also serve as a warm-up before practicing an exercise.
Leg cramps can be prevented by the following measures.
It is always better to support the toes when sleeping or lying down with a pillow and by propping up the feet.
Always sleep in a spongy bed to help prevent the toes and feet from positioning downward during sleep.
When you have foot problems or flat feet, wear suitable footwear during the day.
Keep the body fit by getting enough exercise. Exercise should not be strenuous and make sure the program is suitable and the progress is gradual.
Avoid training for prolonged periods, and it is important to warm up before exercise.
A leg cramp is a common problem that usually happens for an unknown reason. Stretching, holding, and massaging the area around the muscle can often bring relief. When the cramps are severe and frequent, consider consulting a doctor.
Last reviewed at:
05 Mar 2023 - 5 min read
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