What Causes Calf Cramps?

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Whether a regular brisk walker or a high-intensity exercise fanatic, you may have been a victim to calf soreness or cramps one too many times. Reasons such as overuse, dehydration, muscle strain or simply holding a position for too long can all cause unwanted pain in your lower legs. By targeting the issue and taking steps to correct it, you can help ease your muscle ache.

Overuse or Contraction

One of the most common reasons for muscle cramps is overuse during exercise. These type of cramps are caused by the Golgi tendon bodies, which spring into action in order to prevent the calf muscle from contracting too hard. Another common name for this type of cramp is a "Charlie horse"-- a form of pain that usually strikes at night or when seated for a period of time with the calf in a shortened position after exercise. In order to prevent cramping due to overuse, rest and stretch your calves regularly, especially after activity.

Dehydration and Dietary Deficiencies

Water loss through perspiration or sweat increases the likelihood of cramps due to the fact that there isn't enough water in the body for healthy activity. Calf cramps resulting from dehydration most commonly occur in warm-weather environments.

Sodium depletion has also been shown to be correlated with leg cramping. Because sodium is one of the most abundant minerals found in body fluid, balancing water intake and electrolytes is of extreme importance in preventing calf muscle cramps. Potassium imbalance, a major electrolyte found in fresh vegetables, fruits, milk, meat and fish, is also known to cause painful muscle cramping. Additionally, there is a correlation between calcium and magnesium deficiencies and muscle cramping as well.

Muscle Strain, Injury, or Inadequate Blood Supply

With any muscle overuse, there is always the risk of a more permanent muscle strain. Persistent muscle spasms may occur protectively in your calves after an injury due to overuse or misuse during exercise. A sudden overload of the muscle by walking too briskly, wearing improper footwear, or participating in vigorous athletic endeavors can exacerbate pain.

Narrowed arteries or inadequate blood supply to the legs, also called arteriosclerosis or peripheral artery disease, can cause a cramp-like pain in your legs. This problem occurs when fatty plaque builds up on the walls of your arteries and makes them narrower, preventing the widening of artery walls and adequate blood flow.

Poor Posture or Holding a Position Too Long

Calf cramps may also be caused during rest periods while holding a position for too long, or while maintaining poor posture. If the body is forced into a position that tightens up the calf and the muscles along the bottom of the foot, it can respond by sending a message of pain and cramping to the brain. Poor posture can also inhibit muscle balance in the lower extremities. In order to prevent these types of cramping, practice maintaining good posture and remember to stretch regularly throughout the day.

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