How Does a Leg Cramp Happen?

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What is a Leg Cramp?

  • Leg cramps are a sort of muscle cramp that generally causes the powerful muscles in the calf to contract painfully for anywhere from a few seconds up to minutes. During a leg cramp, the muscles that cramp cannot be controlled by the sufferer, and the cramp can be extremely painful. Along with the calf muscles, leg cramps can also occur in the hamstrings and quadriceps. The most common time for such leg cramps is nighttime, with many people suffering leg cramps so severe that they wake them out of deep sleep during the middle of the night. Leg cramps can take place at any time of the day or night, though.

What Causes a Leg Cramp?

  • The exact causal factors of leg cramps aren't fully understood by modern medicine. One common suspect as a cause of leg cramps is dehydration. Another common cause is strenuous exercise, particularly if undertaken close to bedtime. Poor blood flow is another potential cause of leg cramps, as is poor nutrition. In some patients it has been conclusively demonstrated that excessively low levels of vital minerals and nutrients (such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium) can lead to nocturnal leg cramps. The use of certain narcotics at high dosages is also linked to leg cramps.

Avoiding Leg Cramps

  • If you're going to take part in strenuous exercise, particularly in weightlifting involving your leg muscles, try to do so as early in the day as is practicable. Also, eat a healthy diet and make sure you keep your electrolytes in balance. It's also important to make sure that you always stretch before and after you exercise and that you cool down properly after a workout.

Treating Leg Cramps

  • If you've already got a leg cramp, try to straighten the muscles out as much as possible and lightly massage the affected muscle group with your hands. Also, try to breath deeply in a controlled pattern because higher oxygen levels in your bloodstream will help to ease the muscle cramp. After the cramp, drink some water to make sure you're hydrated and to prevent any further cramps, and apply heat to the leg muscle that cramped. If you continue to have problems, try drinking some tonic water, which contains quinine. The quinine will also help to ease the leg cramps.

  • Photo Credit Geoffrey Weed
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