Why do my legs cramp?
What are leg cramps?
Leg cramps are caused by the muscles in the leg suddenly shortening and becoming tight. A leg cramp usually happens involuntarily – this means you can’t control it. Even though leg cramps are usually harmless, they can be painful. The cramp itself may last from a few seconds to ten minutes. Cramps in the thigh tend to last the longest – this is because the muscle group in the thigh is bigger and therefore takes longer to recover. After the cramp has passed, you will be able to control the affected muscle again although this can feel quite tender for a couple of hours after. The most common place leg cramp occurs is in the calf muscles although cramp can affect other parts of the leg and feet. Most cases of cramp (3 out of 4 times) occur at night during sleep. Although most leg cramps occur in people over 50 years old, they do occur in younger adults and children too. Both women and men seem to be equally affected.
Causes of leg cramp
Causes of leg cramp are split into two categories:
Idiopathic – this means the leg cramp happens for no apparent reason or no reason can be found. Although the reason is not known, some theories include:
Abnormal nerve activity during sleep which causes the muscles of the leg to cramp
Excessive exercise placing extra strain on the leg muscles
A sudden restriction in the blood supply to the affected muscles
As we get older, tendons (the tissue connecting muscles to bone) naturally get shorter. This is one theory as to why muscle cramp seems to affect older people more than younger people.
Secondary leg cramp – this means the leg cramp is related to something else, e.g. a health condition etc. Examples of secondary leg cramp include:
Pregnancy – the extra weight of pregnancy can place more strain on the leg muscles however these should pass after the baby is born
Neurological conditions – conditions that affect the nerves in your leg muscles
Certain types of medication e.g. statins, diuretics, raloxifene, nifedipine etc. If you think your medication may be causing your leg cramps, see your GP as your dosage may need to be adjusted. Never stop taking your prescribed medication unless your GP has advised you to.
Liver disease – if the liver stops working properly, toxins will build up in the blood which can cause your muscles to go into spasm
Dehydration – low levels of water in the body can lead to a drop in salt levels which can trigger muscle cramps
Treating leg cramps
Methods of treating leg cramps include:
Regular exercise has been shown to reduce episodes of leg cramp.
Stretches, particularly calf muscle stretches are very beneficial. If you find that your cramps occur mainly at night, stretching the calf muscles before going to bed each night may help.
Sports massage can help to relax the muscles of the leg and reduce the build-up of tension in the area.
Medication such as muscle relaxants are only normally used in severe cases where exercise does not help.
If you suffer with secondary leg cramps, treating the underlying condition may help to relieve the cramps.
Should I see anyone?
Most people tend to suffer with leg cramps occasionally. If the cramps happen every so often, it is not a cause for concern. However, if you get leg cramps frequently or they are affecting your quality of life, it may be a good idea to visit your GP.
If you feel like your leg cramps are caused by tight muscles, regular sports massage may benefit you. I offer sports massage in either 30 minute, 45 minute, 60 minute or 90 minute sessions. If you are unsure whether sports massage is right for you, contact me for some advice first. I hope this blog has been useful. If you or anyone you know suffers with leg cramps, please share this blog with them and as always, stay tuned for some fresh blogging next week!