Some call them a charley horse, others a leg cramp, but no one calls them an enjoyable experience. Leg cramps can be excruciating, and often attack when you’re sound asleep, waking you with a violent reaction, worsened only by the shock of their arrival. In some cases, these cramps can be prevented, and if you’ve had them before, you know taking steps to prevent them is wise.
Your muscles “cramp” when they involuntarily contract. This usually feels like a painful knot on your leg muscle, and renders it momentarily immobile. They are most common in the calf muscle, but can also happen in the thighs or feet. Normally, they last just a few moments before the muscle loosens up and the pain dissipates.
There are a variety of things that can lead to leg cramps. But, it’s important to note that there is often no explanation at all for leg cramps. Because they often happen at night when our legs are slightly bent and our feet are pointed downward, some have suggested that this tightening triggers a spasm.
But if you’re trying to prevent these painful occurrences, it’s best to minimize the circumstances that can increase their likelihood.
There are certain activities that make you more prone to lower leg cramps. These include exercises that rely heavily on the leg muscles, such as recreational running, weight training the legs, or sports that require a lot of running.
You can prevent activity-related leg cramps by drinking plenty of water and taking it easy and not exercising when you are fatigued.
Pregnancy, as well as certain medical conditions, can also increase your risk of experiencing leg cramps. If you are pregnant or have any of these conditions, and are suffering with more leg cramps than usual, it may behoove you to speak with your doctor:
- Addison’s disease
- kidney failure
- thyroid issues
- Parkinson’s disease
- type 2 diabetes
- vascular disease
In addition, medications including birth control pills, diuretics, salbutamon, naproxen, Albuterol, and statins can contribute to leg cramps.
Preventing leg cramps is where it begins, but if you’re in the throes of a painful cramp, it helps to know what to do. When you have a cramp, massage and stretch it gently. If it’s in your calf, you can flex your foot to attempt to stretch the muscle, or walk around on your heels if the pain isn’t unbearable.
Generally, the effects of a cramp will disappear in minutes. If you suffer from ongoing cramps, speak with your doctor. Currently there are no medications specifically designed to treat recurring muscle cramps, but if your cramping is a sign of another problem, addressing that underlying issue could provide relief.