Leg cramps are usually a harmless and common condition. This happens when the muscles in your leg becomes suddenly tight, causing pain. There is no known cause in most instances for why it happens. However, there are known medications and diseases that will sometimes cause cramps in legs. The best way to control them is with regular calf stretching exercises. Here you will find common causes and treatments for leg cramps.
What Are Leg Cramps?
Leg cramps are pain in the leg muscles. This is due to muscle spasms wherein the muscles contract to hard. This is common in the calf muscles, the muscles behind and below the knees. Sometimes the muscles in the feet will also be affected.
Leg cramps may last for only seconds to a few minutes, in some cases they may last for up to ten minutes. The pain varies from mild to severe. The muscles may remain sensitive for up to twenty-four hours after suffering leg cramps. Leg cramps happen at night mostly. When this occurs, it will often wake you up and can become distressing if they interrupt your sleep often.
What Cause Leg Cramps?
Most leg cramps are called idiopathic, few are secondary leg cramps. The causes of leg cramps are different to the two types of leg cramps.
1. Causes of Idiopathic Leg Cramps
The idiopathic leg cramps cause is not known for sure. There are multiple theories as to what causes them. They include:
- Nerves having abnormalities during sleep can cause leg cramps at night.
- Overuse of leg muscles can lead strain to be placed on them, like exercising or engaging in strenuous activities.
- A sudden reduction in circulation of the blood to the muscles can lead to cramps.
Additionally as we age our tendons become shorter, hence why many older persons are affected more frequently. A tendon is strong band of tissue that connects muscle to bone. If tendons shorten too much, they may cause the muscle they are attached to cramp.
2. Causes of Secondary Leg Cramps
Thesecramps are caused by identifiable or underlying conditions. Included in these are:
- Neurological conditions. Examples are peripheral neuropathy or motor neuron disease.
- Exercising. Often leg crampsare experienced while resting after exercise.
- Pregnancy. As a woman gains weight during her pregnancy, this may lead to strain on her leg muscles, which makes them more susceptible to leg cramps.
- Toxins. People that have high levels of toxins (poisons) in their blood such as lead or mercury may also experience leg cramps.
- Infection. Some bacterial infections such as tetanus may also cause muscle spasms or cramps.
- Liver disease. When your body’s natural filter, the liver, is no longer working properly, there will be a buildup of toxins the body. This can cause muscles to spasm and cramp as well.
- Dehydration. If you do not have enough water in your body it will cause a drop in salt levels, which may also trigger leg cramps.
- Medications. In a small number of people, some medications have shown to cause leg cramps.
How They Cause Leg Cramps
Because diuretics force out electrolytes, sodium and potassium, it causes low levels of these contents, leading to cramps.
Due to the narrowing of arteries, they cause a lower blood flow, leading to cramps.
Statins and fibrates
Studies show that these drugs inhibit muscle growth, leading to weakness and cramps.
Researchers do not know why this causes muscle cramps yet. But it does affect leg cramps.
How to Treat Leg Cramps
Often massaging and stretching the affected muscle will relieve the attack. Cramps will soon go away. Pain medication is usually not helpful, as they take too long to begin acting. However, paracetamol, a painkiller, may help ease muscle tenderness and discomfort, as this tenderness may persist for up to 24 hours after a cramp.
How to Prevent Leg Cramps
1. Stretch Calf Exercise
Stretch calf exercise is a good way to relieve the pain of leg cramps. It is also a great exercise to prevent its reappearing. The proper way to stretch you calf muscle is to stand 60 to 90 cm (2 to 3 feet) from a wall. Keep your feet flat on the floor and then bend forward to lean on the wall. You will feel the muscles in your calf stretch. Do this several times a day for as long as you can. It may take a week or longer before you see an improvement in your leg cramps. Make sure to give yourself a 2 to 4 week trial of regular stretching to see if this helps. They may not go away completely, but they may reduce in frequency and severity.
2. Change Your Medications
If you are taking any of the medications listed in the causes of secondary leg cramps, be sure to consult with you doctor and seek alternatives if available, as this may be causing your leg cramps. Also, if you are having other symptoms aside from cramps, see your doctor.
3. Adjust the Posture of Your Legs While Sleeping
Applying particular position of your legs while you sleep may help prevent leg cramps. These are not proven although some experts believe they will help.
- Use a pillow to prop up your legs
- Hang your feet over the bed
- Keep blankets loose on the foot of the bed to prevent them from forcing your toes to point downward
4. Use Medications
There are several medications available for leg cramps, among which is quinine. This may help with leg cramps although it may not stop them altogether. Quinine may also have some serious side effects, so make sure to consult your doctor and ask what you should pay attention to. There are other medicines and supplements that might help with leg cramps, including magnesium, vitamin B complex, vitamin E, orphenadrine, naffitdrofuryl, diltiazem and verapamil. But be sure to consult your GP at first.