Dealing with leg pain and cramping can be incredibly frustrating, not to mention painful as well. Sometimes leg cramps can be so painful they can prevent an individual from walking well (or at all, until the cramps abate). There are also quite a few different causes behind leg cramps. Some of these are quite benign and simple to resolve, whereas others are a little bit more complicated. The best way to deal with cramps in the legs, along with other forms of leg pain, is to first identify why they are occurring in the first place. From there, individuals can determine what treatment options are best suited for their case of leg cramps.
If an individual is not taking in enough fluids, their body starts shutting down in various ways. Since things are not functioning and circulating properly, their muscles start cramping up. This is especially true for athletes or those who like to stay physically active. If someone is participating in a sporting event or doing hard labor and they feel a leg cramp starting up, they need to get hydrated right away, as this could be one of the first signs of heat stroke. Of course, gulping water isn't the best course of action to reverse dehydration. It's important to sip the water at a constant, steady pace. Too much, too quickly can cause additional issues. Furthermore, individuals can avoid leg cramps and other muscle cramps due to dehydration in the future if they drink water or other hydrating beverages regularly throughout each day.
Low Sodium Levels
Being low on sodium can trigger cramps in the legs. Sodium is often sweated out when individuals engage in long periods of physical activity. If their body cannot replace the sodium as quickly as they are losing it, then they will likely experience cramping in their legs or other parts of their body as a reaction. Individuals who believe low sodium could be the reason behind their leg cramps should be sure to safely bring up the sodium levels in their body to treat the issue directly. This includes consuming foods with salt, such as soups, crackers, and cheese, as well as drinking electrolyte beverages. When drinking water, individuals must monitor their intake, as drinking too much, too fast can hinder their body's performance and decrease sodium levels.
Low On Carbs
Leg cramps and low-carbohydrate diets often go hand-in-hand. When individuals try to watch their weight, it seems like cutting out carbohydrates is a must, but the body needs at least some of them to function appropriately. If an individual feels the pain in their leg due to the cramps is too much to handle, but still want to maintain their diet, they may want to try increasing their salt and water intake to see if that resolves the problem. If that does not work, increasing their consumption of carbohydrates may be the only way to find some relief from the leg cramps.
Cramping is a direct result of tight muscles, so finding ways to loosen up could make all the difference in relieving cramps in the legs and the pain that often accompanies them. There are many ways to do this. Staying regularly active is a surefire way to keep one's circulation in check and avoid cramps developing in the legs. Massaging and stretching will also help a leg cramp causing immediate pain that needs to be taken care of sooner rather than later. By maintaining a stretching routine, individuals could also avoid future pain due to cramps in their legs, since stretching can help prevent tight muscles from developing and thus, fewer leg cramps as a result. Other options for relieving tight muscles include applying warm or hot compresses to the legs or taking a warm bath.
Between a growing belly, food cravings, and carrying around an extra thirty to forty pounds, pregnancy can be a bit overwhelming. Unfortunately, it may be a direct cause of leg cramps, as well. Doctors are not completely sure why the potential for cramping in the legs increases with pregnancy, but it probably has a lot to do with feeling fatigued and carrying around more weight than normal. Pregnant women can help not only relieve the leg cramps, but also prevent them from occurring as often, by drinking sufficient fluids, elevating their legs whenever possible, and massaging and stretching their legs. Some women even report wearing special pregnancy compression socks can be helpful in keeping leg cramps at bay.
Overexertion Of Muscles
Exercising is a great habit to instill in any lifestyle. It is important for everyone to stay active in order to keep their body functioning appropriately, but it is crucial to be sure to not overdo it. When individuals experience positive changes in their body, it is typical for them to want to push harder and harder to achieve more goals. This is not always good as overexertion can damage their muscles, making them tight and leaving individuals with painful cramping in the legs and other parts of their body. Instead, individuals should take it easy and slowly work their way through new challenges to avoid potential leg cramps and serious injury.
There are various medications that may cause an individual's legs to cramp up as a side effect. Specifically, ones that cause an individual's fluid levels to drop are more prone to cause dehydration, thus triggering muscle spasms and cramps in the legs. Individuals taking any kind of medication and who experience cramps in their legs should take the time to read the labels on their medication and consult with their primary doctor to determine if their medication could be the reason behind the cramps. Consultation with a doctor is crucial, as they can provide the most accurate and safest advice when it comes to dealing with medication-induced leg cramps. Potential solutions include transitioning to a different medication that will not result in this side effect, though other solutions include developing a plan to compensate for the leg cramps, such as increasing one's water intake for diuretics.
Inadequate Blood Supply And Mineral Depletion
Poor circulation or insufficient blood supply to the legs is a common cause of cramps. The arteries that deliver blood to the legs can contract and become narrow, which somewhat compromises the nerves in the legs. Poor circulation can produce pain in the legs while exercising as well as after the fact. Compression of the nerves occurs when an individual is sitting or walking in a slouched position for an extended period, and the resulting compression can cause significant pain in the legs as well as painful cramps. Sitting in an ergonomic chair and improving walking posture is a great place to start addressing these concerns. Mineral depletion in the body is another cause of cramps in the legs; too little calcium, magnesium, or potassium in the body can cause poor circulation and the narrowing of arteries. Certain medications also deplete minerals in the body.
Leg cramps caused by neurological conditions often signal an underlying problem. This type of pain is called a secondary cramp, and it is caused by nerve damage or another identifiable cause. Motor neuron disease is a rare condition that damages parts of the nervous system gradually, leading to muscle weakness and sometimes visible shrinkage or wasting. This disease occurs when nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord stop working efficiently, which is known as neurodegeneration. Motor neuron disease has been known to cause leg cramps in patients with the ailment. Peripheral neuropathy develops in humans when the nerves in the hands, feet, arms, or legs are damaged. Symptoms will depend on which nerves have been damaged, but this condition is known to cause numbness, extreme sensitivity, lack of coordination, pain, tickling, and leg cramps.
Infections And Disease
Liver disease is one known ailment that directly causes toxins to build up in the bloodstream, which can lead to muscle spasms and cramps, including in the legs. Bacterial infections can also hurt the nervous system of the body. One primary disease that contributes to leg cramps is myositis, which causes muscle weakness and can lead to spasms. If toxins are high within the body, there is an increased chance of experiencing leg cramps. This consequence is due to the nerves responding to the toxins and sending messages to the muscles, in this case, the leg muscles. High levels of mercury in the body is a well-known cause of leg cramps; this substance can build up in the body, creating toxic levels of the chemical, which wreaks havoc on the nerves and arteries.
Compression of the nerves in the spine can cause cramp-like pain in the legs. Nerve compression in the spine is termed lumbar stenosis, which is due to the narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back. It is usually caused by bone or tissue growth in the openings of the spinal bones, causing the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord to be squeezed and irritated. Pain and cramps due to nerve compression usually worsen the longer the patient walks, so rest can be quite helpful in alleviating the pain. Walking in a slightly flexed position may improve some of the symptoms as well.
Not Stretching Enough
A common cause of leg cramps is by not stretching enough or, at least, not stretching well enough. Stretching can offer many benefits to the body, including improved flexibility, reduced muscle soreness, and a decreased risk of injury during physical activity. Most leg cramps can be relieved by stretching and exercising the affected muscle. Stretching throughout the day may decrease the frequency of cramps in the legs as well as other parts of the body. Some ways to prevent leg cramps include stretching calves before going to bed each night, sleeping on the back with toes pointed up, laying on the stomach with feet hanging off the bed, and keeping sheets and blankets loose.
The peripheral nervous system is responsible for the transmission of information from the central nervous system to other areas of the body and consists of nerves and pathways residing outside of the brain and spinal cord. When these nerves and pathways are damaged, due to trauma, illness, toxins and genetic abnormalities, a condition called peripheral neuropathy can develop. While it can be attributed to a variety of factors, peripheral neuropathy is most frequently associated with diabetes. One of the most common symptoms of this form of neuropathy is leg cramps, which can be painful in nature. These leg cramps can be accompanied by a wide variety of other symptoms, including loss of sensation in the hands, feet and legs, muscle twitching, and changes in skin, hair or nails. There is currently no cure, but there are several treatment options to manage the condition, including over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription medications, as well as lidocaine injections and patches.
Sitting Improperly Or For Long Periods
Sitting improperly or for long periods of time can also lead to leg cramps. These type of leg cramps are especially common among individuals who have desk or sedentary type jobs in which sitting for hours on end occur regularly. Muscles are designed to not only be in motion but to have proper blood and oxygen flow to keep them healthy. Sitting improperly can impede blood flow, which can then lead to muscle contraction and cramps in the legs. To prevent cramping from occurring for this reason, it is important to stand up and walk for a few minutes every hour. This will get the leg muscles moving and encourage proper blood flow to the legs. It is also important to remember good posture when sitting and to avoid sitting on the legs or leaving them in curled positions for too long.
Parkinson's disease affects the nervous system. It is a progressive disorder which, over time, diminishes an affected individual's ability to move. One of the most common initial symptoms of Parkinson's disease is tremors in the hand. Another symptom frequently seen in Parkinson's disease patients is muscle cramps in the legs. Often, individuals with this condition will experience leg cramps after engaging in a specific physical activity or sitting/standing in a particular position. There is currently no cure for Parkinson's disease, however, there are several medications available that can help patients manage their symptoms. Parkinson's disease patients experiencing frequent leg cramps may find some relief drinking tonic water with quinine, a substance known to reduce cramping.
Vascular disease occurs when arteries that carry blood and oxygen through the body become blocked, preventing blood from reaching all areas of the body. This can cause a wide range of symptoms, including leg cramps. Leg cramps tend to be especially common in individuals with vascular disease after a period of activity, due to the fact the muscles require more blood when in use. These leg cramps are generally also accompanied by weakness and heaviness in the legs. Symptoms generally dissipate after a short period of rest. Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the symptoms and can include blood thinners, prescription medications to relax the blood vessels, and a change in diet to lower cholesterol.
Cirrhosis is a disease that kills the cells in the liver, resulting in scarring and eventual failure of the organ. It is most often caused alcohol abuse and hepatitis B and C, but there are many other causes for the disease as well. Many individuals with this disease experience leg cramps to a varying degree. While the cause is not completely certain, research indicates nerve damage and a decrease in the body's ability to metabolize energy may be at the root of the problem. Individuals with cirrhosis can find relief from muscle cramps in various forms, including prescription muscle relaxants as well as vitamin E supplements.