Leg Cramps

Information on the cause of leg cramps and cramping in leg muscles.

Select a Topic

  1. What are Leg Cramps?
  2. What Causes Leg Cramps?
  3. Help for Leg Cramps
  4. More Information on Leg Cramps

What are Leg Cramps?

A leg cramp is a sudden, painful involuntary contraction of a muscle in the lower limbs. These painful knots, often referred to as ‘charley horses’, are caused by muscle spasms. Cramps usually occur in the muscles that cross two joints such as the calf, hamstring, and quadriceps. This is a common complaint and frequently occurs at night. The cramp usually lasts from a few seconds to fifteen minutes or more, and can be extremely painful.

What Causes Leg Cramps?

The exact causes of leg cramps have not been determined, but there are factors contributing to this condition:

  • Muscle fatigue
  • Heavy exercising
  • Dehydration
  • High weight (not necessarily obesity)
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Medications
  • Pregnancy
  • Magnesium or calcium deficiency

A severe case of leg cramps may result in tenderness and even muscle fiber necrosis. Chronic diseases of the motor neuron can also cause recurrent severe cramps.

Who is Most at Risk for Leg Cramps?

Athletes, tri-athletes and other sportsmen are most prone to leg cramps. They also occur quite frequently during pregnancy, but the people most at risk for leg cramps are the elderly, those who are overweight, and those who are ill.

Help for Leg Cramps

Leg cramp treatment depends on the severity of the injury. The easiest way to get rid of a leg cramp is to massage and stretch the muscle. If the leg cramp is mild, topical muscle relaxants, massage oils, or oral analgesics could relieve symptoms. However, if the injury is more serious and severe pain is presented, a doctor should be consulted.

More Information on Leg Cramps

Preventing Leg Cramps
  • Stretching regularly to relax muscles and prevent cramps
  • Exercising regularly— but not over exerting oneself, as this can cause leg cramps
  • Drinking plenty of water during and after exercise, as dehydration can prompt leg cramps
  • Increasing your intake of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin E supplements
  • Placing a *heat pack on the sore muscle* to help relieve the pain
  • Using massage therapy or acupuncture
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