IntroductionLeg cramps are also known as night cramps or Charley horses. They usually occur during the night time. They are severe in intensity and thus can wake a person in the middle of the night. Also seen to occur during day time in the middle of intense physical training or outdoor activities. These cramps can last from a few seconds to up to as long as 10 minutes in duration. Leg cramps are quite common and also completely harmless. Usually cramps are seen in calf muscles but can occur in any part of the leg like in foot or in thigh. Cramping is very sudden in onset and muscles become painful and tight. Even after cramping has passed, an individual experiences slight pain in leg which lasts for certain duration and also complains of tenderness.
Leg crampsAn onset of leg cramp is very sudden and those who suffer from it, find it almost impossible to use the affected muscle when cramping exists. Muscles experience two states. One is a relaxed state and the other one is state of contraction. Muscles consist of fibers. When these fibers present within muscles are elongated then muscle is said to be in a relaxed state. When muscle functions, calcium reaches cells present within muscle and at the same time, sodium is expelled out. This causes shortening of muscle fibers and at the same time muscle gets pulled. However, this is not abnormal cause this is how muscle functions.
Spasm or cramp occurs when muscle remains contracted. This will cause a sharp pain for a certain duration. It is an involuntary condition which causes forcible contraction of muscle which thereby prevents muscle from going into a relaxed state. Usually cramps occur in calves, hamstrings, thighs, feet, but also can just show up in any muscle of leg. One can easily feel a hard lump during leg cramp which is nothing but a contracted muscle. Sharp, intense pain which occurs during leg cramp lasts from a few seconds to 10 minutes. Mild pain, tenderness and difficulty in proper functioning of leg can be experienced by an individual as long as up to 24 hours after leg cramp episode. Mostly seen to occur during night time at rest. 3 out of 4 cases are of nocturnal leg cramps. Pregnant women, old age individuals, sports person are at high risk of suffering from leg cramps frequently. If intensity of pain is very severe then soreness can last for few days. Men and women both are equally affected.
What to do to bring relief in a leg cramp ?
Activities which can prevent leg cramps
Medical careLeg cramp is usually a harmless condition. However, if cramping occurs very frequently and the pain it causes is severe, unbearable and do not stop for a long time then medical attention is very much needed. Visit a doctor who will take a complete medical history and ask all sorts of cramping and pain related questions. Questions will be related to the intensity, duration of pain. location and whether sleep gets disturbed by pain etc. He will rule out other underlying causes. Sometimes accidental exposure to toxins take place which will induce leg cramps. In such cases immediately seek medial help. Also, visit a doctor as soon as possible if leg cramps are causing muscle weakness and atrophy or else interfering with daily functioning or sleep.
ConclusionLeg cramping is a condition in which muscles of leg show sudden tightening. Calf muscle which is located at the back area of the lower part of leg usually undergoes cramping. Leg cramps can occur during a work out session, in outdoors while hiking, trekking or playing a sports and even during night time while sleeping. Main reason for leg cramps to develop is contraction of muscles in legs and this may be due to inadequate oxygen and blood supply, dehydration or an underlying disease or disorder. Know more about what causes leg cramps or Charlie horses as it is always important to diagnose the exact cause for leg cramps and treat it. Simple methods like massaging and stretching can immediately relieve leg cramps and if preventive measures are followed then one can totally save oneself from going through painful muscle spasms of leg leading to cramping.
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Some more preventive measures for leg cramps are-
-Follow a healthy lifestyle. Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and follow a well-balanced nutritious diet. Exercise regularly without exerting any excess stress on legs. Sleep for adequate hours. Reduce intake of alcohol and caffeine. Both of them are not good for health and cause mild dehydration. This increases risk of leg cramping.
-Increase intake of vitamins and minerals. At least 300 mg of magnesium is essential on daily basis and this can be obtained by increasing the amount of intake of lentils, nuts etc. A small dose of magnesium citrate before going to sleep can prevent risk of nocturnal leg cramps. Vitamin E is known to decrease occurrence of leg cramps. Also, calcium intake of 1 gm daily has proved to be effective in prevention of cramping. Daily take a multivitamin supplement. Increase potassium and zinc intake in diet. Eat bananas for potassium.
-Quinine is a popular drug which can reduce the frequency of leg cramps, but it comes with side effects and therefore should not be taken without the prescription. Tonic water contains quinine and thereby some people drink it to prevent leg cramps.
-Athletes and sports people before and after vigorous physical activity along with stretching should also perform some warm-up and cool down. They are the ones who are very commonly affected by leg cramps and to reduce the risk, proper training is essential.
-Leg cramps are very common during pregnancy. Adequate hydration along with supplements of calcium and magnesium prove to be effective in preventing them.
-Learn to avoid excessive exertion of tension on the muscles of legs. Activities which previously resulted in cramping should be noted and thereby possible causes and factors which cause cramping can be diagnosed. Avoiding the same can prevent future leg cramps. Take regular breaks from the activity and always remain in a comfortable position. Avoid heels if they are uncomfortable to walk into. Adjust chair position to comfort body. Always sleep on mattress and in position which is comfortable.
-Individuals suffering from leg cramps should always support their toes. When lying on back, place pillow below feet. If lying on stomach then allow lower extremities to hang over bed end. Go for outdoor cycling or ride a stationary bike regularly. This is the best exercise to stretch muscles of legs and to condition them.
The author has written on leg cramp but left the hand cramp/ finger cramp. Cramping also happen in hand's fingers when someone rides the scooter or motorcycle for long duration in the crowdy roads. I do not use motorcycle much but if i go sometimes long in city, my hand fingers get cramped. I have to stop and rub the fingers for 5-10 minutes to get normal.
Nice explanation of leg cramps and the home remedies for the same. It can be scary sometimes as if often starts in the night in many people. I agree with the good suggestions made. To add on
1.Many a times Vitamin D deficiency can be an underlying contribution factor and treatment depends on the Vit D3 levels ( calcium along, calicum + vit D3 + magnesium or high dose vit D3 once a month).
2. Leg cramps with a difference
Some people develop leg cramps that get better with resting the leg. If this occurs in smokers or people with hypercholesterolemia and coronary artery disease, then it would be worthwhile seeing your regular physician or a surgeon for further assessment. It is because leg cramps brought on by walking and exercise, relieved by taking rest indicates a reduction in blood flow to the leg arteries ( similar to people getting chest pain due to narrowing of the arteries to the heart). These patients need a check of the leg arteries ( blood vessels carrying pure blood) to rule out narrowing. If a narrowing is found then then vascular specialists manage it ( dilate the narrowed area or place a stent across it or rarely operate)
3.Leg cramps in restless legs: some people have sudden uncontrollable movements of the legs along with pain similar to cramps after going to bed. For this most of the life style measures suggested earlier will help you.
4. Caution on Over the counter medications: Common pain killers bought over the counter ( ibuprofen, brufen, diclofenac) all are gastric irritants and affects kidney functions. Elderly people who are diabetics for many years can worsen their kidney function by taking these medications regularly without medical supervision. The other common medications given to relieve neurological pain often causes drowsiness and nausea some time. It maybe ok to take for a day or two but please consult your medical practitioner for long term use.