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What Causes Leg Cramps (and What to Do About Them)

By Brian Acton

Leg cramps, popularly referred to as “charley horses”, are painful cramps caused by muscle spasms in your legs. These involuntary contractions of your leg muscles frequently occur in the calf muscles, and often strike mid-exercise or while you’re lying in bed. While they usually only last a few minutes, they can be very painful. They’re also quite common, as up to 60% of adults report experiencing nocturnal leg cramps. Leg cramps have many potential causes, most of which aren’t linked to serious medical conditions. But while you can usually wait them out, there are a few ways to reduce the likelihood of getting them in the future. What Causes Leg Cramps? It’s hard to identify one specific cause of leg cramps, especially when they occur out of the blue. Most of the time, they don’t represent a serious medical issue. Some of the most commonly identified causes include:
  • Muscle Overuse: overusing your muscles can lead to muscle fatigue or spams. If you are exercising at a higher-than-normal intensity, or if you don’t stretch enough before or after exercise sessions, you may be putting yourself at risk for leg cramps.
  • Dehydration: dehydration, especially among athletes, can lead to painful leg cramps.
  • Medications: certain medications, including intravenous iron sucrose, naproxen, raloxifene, and intravenous iron sucrose have been linked to leg cramps.
  • Medical conditions: certain conditions, including nerve damage from cancer treatment, osteoarthritis, and cirrhosis have been linked to leg cramps.
  • Pregnancy: pregnant women often report leg cramps as a symptom of pregnancy.
The older you get, the more susceptible you are to leg cramps. What to Do About Them While there is no cure for leg cramps, there are steps you can take to limit your risk of getting them. There are also ways to treat them as they occur. During a cramp, you can try stretching by putting your weight on the affected leg and bending your knee slightly. You can also massage the muscles, ice them, or take a bath with Epsom salts. At the very least, you’ll simply have to wait them out. If you frequently get leg cramps during common exercises like running or bicycling, you should try lowering the intensity of your exercise. This will help reduce the risk of muscle fatigue. Over time, you can build up to a higher intensity. You should also stretch before or after exercise and make sure to stay hydrated. If you persistently get leg cramps for no apparent reason, you should see your general practitioner. While you shouldn’t jump to any conclusions, leg cramps have been linked to certain medical conditions, and there’s no harm in getting checked out by your doctor.   Sources: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0815/p350.html https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/muscle-spasms-cramps-charley-horse
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