Leg cramps, often known as Charley horses, are a frequent ailment that affects the muscles of the foot, calves, and thighs. Sudden, painful, and involuntary contractions of a leg muscle are involved.
They frequently happen while someone is asleep or relaxing. They can vanish in a matter of seconds, but on average, they last 9 minutes. They can cause muscular pain for up to 24 hours thereafter.
Most of the time, there is no known cause for them, and they are completely innocuous. However, they can sometimes reflect an underlying condition like diabetes or peripheral artery disease.
When to see a physician
Leg cramps aren’t normally a cause for concern, but they might sometimes signal an underlying issue. If your cramps are severe or occur regularly, you should seek medical help.
Tests may be performed by the doctor in order to determine the underlying reason. If the patient is taking drugs that cause cramps, the doctor may decrease the dose or prescribe a different prescription.
Causes and risk factors
Although there are several possibilities, most people have no idea why leg cramps occur.
Muscle exhaustion and nerve dysfunction may have a role, according to certain studies.
Night cramps can be triggered by sleeping with the foot extended out and the calf muscles shortened.
Another argument is that cramps are more common nowadays because less people squat, which strains the calf muscles.
Physical activity is a factor. Leg crap can occur after or after a prolonged period of stress or use of a muscle. Cramps are common among athletes, especially at the outset of a season when their bodies are out of condition. Nerve injury might be a factor.
Dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities, according to some experts, may play a role. Athletes who engage in intensive activity in hot temperatures are prone to cramps. Scientific data, on the other hand, has not backed up this claim. After all, athletes who compete in cold regions get cramping as well.
Leg cramps can sometimes be caused by a condition affecting the neurological system, circulation, metabolism, or hormones. Some drugs might also make you more vulnerable.
Cramps can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- thyroid disease and hormonal problems
- chronic infections
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- chronic kidney disease and kidney failure
- diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes
- vascular disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- peripheral artery disease (PAD)
- restless legs syndrome
- pregnancy, especially in the later stages
- alcohol misuse
- chronic kidney failure
- cancer treatment
- muscle fatigue
- motor neuron disease
- Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS)
- spinal nerve irritation or compression
- hardening of the arteries
- spinal stenosis
The following medications can cause cramping:
- naproxen (Aleve)
- iron sucrose (Venofer)
- conjugated estrogens
- teriparatide (Forteo)
- raloxifene (Evista)
Leg cramps are more common in senior people. Muscle loss begins in the mid-40s and worsens if a person is not physically active. Cramps may be more likely as a result of this.
According to studies, 50–60% of adults and 7% of children have cramps, with the chance increasing with age.
To relieve cramping, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends the following:
- Apply heat to muscles that are tight or tense.
- Use cold packs on tender muscles.
- Stop the activity that caused the cramp.
- Stretch and massage the muscle.
- Hold the leg in the stretched position until the cramp stops.
Magnesium supplements, for example, are used by some people to relieve muscular cramps. However, an analysis of older persons in 2020 found that they were unlikely to benefit from this therapy. There isn’t enough research to say if vitamins benefit in other situations, such as pregnancy.
Stretching before night may assist, but there isn’t much research to back this up.
Leg cramps are unlikely to be prevented by any medicine.
An over-the-counter (OTC) painkiller may assist if a severe cramp leaves a muscle sensitive.
People utilized quinine in the past. People should not take this, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), since it may have harmful interactions and negative effects.
Exercise and stretching, calcium channel blockers, carisoprodol, and vitamin B-12 may assist, although there is minimal proof. Multivitamins might be beneficial during pregnancy.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), calcium, and potassium have no evidence of effectiveness.
Stretches and exercises
Leg cramps will generally go away on their own if there is no underlying reason.
Walking on your tiptoes might assist to stretch muscles and ease cramps.
Stretching exercises may be beneficial. If you get a calf muscle cramp, attempt the following stretches:
Hamstring muscle stretch
- Sit on the floor with legs straight out in front.
- Pull the toes up toward the knee, to stretch the calf muscle.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
Calf muscle stretch
- Stand about one meter from a wall with both feet flat on the ground.
- Lean forward against the wall with the arms outstretched and the hands flat on the wall. Keep the heels on the ground.
- Hold for 10 seconds, then gently return to an upright position.
- Repeat 5-10 times.
Quadriceps muscle stretch
- Stand up straight, holding a wall or chair for support if necessary.
- Pull one foot up toward the buttocks, grasp and ankle, and hold the foot as close to the body as far as possible.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other foot.
These activities may aid in the relief or prevention of cramps. They may also be used as a pre-workout warm-up.
- Leg cramps can also be avoided by doing the following steps.
- Wear appropriate footwear during the day, particularly if you have flat feet or other foot issues.
- Keep your bedding free to avoid your feet and toes pointing downward as you sleep.
- When lying down or sleeping, prop up the feet using a pillow to support the toes.
Keeping fit by exercising regularly might assist. If someone exercises, they should ensure that their program is appropriate and that their growth is steady. Avoid overtraining and training for lengthy periods of time, and always warm up before beginning.
Leg cramps are a frequent ailment that generally occurs for no apparent reason. The muscle can typically be relieved by stretching and massaging it.
However, in rare circumstances, there may be an underlying problem that necessitates medical intervention. Consult a doctor if your cramps are severe or occur frequently.