What Causes Leg Cramps, And How Can I Stop Them?
Leg cramps are a painful experience that can leave us wondering why they happen and rushing for ways to stop them. Unfortunately, as you’ll learn, leg cramps are a little elusive and mysterious to doctors, so it can be arduous sorting through information. Here, we’ll try to help by going through what leg cramps are and naming some possible causes, before finishing up with natural remedies for leg cramps that may help bring you some relief.
What are leg cramps?
Leg cramps are sharp, sudden, and involuntary muscle pains, usually felt in the foot, calf, or thigh. They feel like your muscle is so tightened and clenched as to be uncomfortable, or even severely painful. While they can occur at any point during the day or when exercising, many experience consistent leg cramps at night as well. Leg pain at night is particularly troublesome for many as they can disrupt your schedule and contribute to sleeplessness and restlessness.
What causes leg cramps?
Sometimes you can figure out what causes leg cramps by paying attention to when they happen. For example your exercise might contribute to sore muscles which may cause cramps later. However, doctors have long noted that it’s uncertain exactly why many cases occur. Despite this, a couple theories have been offered to explain this uncomfortable phenomena. We’ll go through a couple here:
1. Nerve dysfunction
Sometimes, dysfunctional nerves can cause leg cramps. For example, pinched nerves in the legs can cause sharp pains with seemingly no outward cause. Similarly, pinched blood vessels in the legs can contribute to losses in circulation. The Mayo Clinic also suggests that those with medical conditions such as diabetes or nerve disorders are at a higher risk to experience leg cramps.
2. Overworked muscles
Overworked muscles can be a common source of what causes leg cramps at night or during the day. For example, athletes whose muscles are regularly worked to fatigue can develop leg cramps during exercise, or experience them afterward. Overworked muscles may also be a cause of leg cramps in the elderly, who often have reduced muscle mass already and are at a risk to experience muscle fatigue.
Dehydration can contribute to a deficiency in minerals like potassium and calcium, which both work to help support your muscle function. Therefore, this lack of nutrients may contribute to leg cramps. Fluids themselves also help keep muscles mobile and able to contract and relax with more ease. Further, hydrated muscle cells are generally healthier, less irritable, and able to work more efficiently.
4. Certain medications
Similarly to dehydration, certain medications can also deplete important minerals. For example, diuretics and common cholesterol-lowering medications may cause a worsening in leg cramp symptoms, specifically those that occur during the nighttime.
5. Magnesium deficiency
Magnesium is one mineral that helps support muscle functions like contractions and mobility. Therefore magnesium deficiency has been cited as a possible cause of leg cramps. While many try a supplement of magnesium for leg cramps it hasn’t been shown to help alleviate them on it’s own, except maybe during pregnancy.
6. Leg cramps during pregnancy
The American Pregnancy Association estimates that half of all pregnant individuals experience leg cramps, making them a very common symptom. As with other leg cramps though, it is not exactly known why they occur. However, some have suggested that the changes in weight and circulation during pregnancy are a cause. This change in weight may also cause a pinch in the nerves and blood vessels that travel to your legs, which can in turn contribute to less circulation.
How to Help Prevent Leg Cramps
The suggested ways to stop leg cramps are based on providing your muscles with everything they need to relax and work efficiently. As mentioned above, medical professionals are unsure what actually causes them, which is also why there is no sure solution of how to stop leg cramps immediately. Instead, it is suggested that you try different remedies through trial and error. There are many simple and natural remedies for leg cramps that may help, though it’s more than likely that you’ll be working to manage your cramps as opposed to getting rid of them completely.
1. Try stretching or massage
Stretching or massaging a sore muscle is the simplest home remedy for leg cramps. In fact, it’s probably what you already do instinctively to reduce the pain when a cramp occurs. Uninjured muscles usually react well to stretching and massage, as they naturally relax and hopefully uncramp. It can also help promote better circulation, just like when you stretch a limb after it’s fallen asleep.
2. Stay hydrated
As noted in the last section, dehydration may contribute to leg cramps. Especially in athletes who might experience regular dehydration during hard exercise. Whether it directly causes leg cramps or not, at the very least, keeping your muscles hydrated helps support general muscle health as well as the health of your entire body.
3. Up your intake of magnesium
Boosting your magnesium intake can support muscle health and help eliminate deficiency. Magnesium-rich foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, and greens are a great nutritional source, and provide a simple, natural way to reach your daily value for the mineral. Though there is not much information confirming that magnesium solves the problem of how to get rid of leg cramps, many try improving their intake of it simply because it’s one of the minerals that supports healthy muscles. However, while not shown to help soothe the symptom in other people, supplements for leg cramps may be useful for pregnant individuals who experience them.
4. Consider a leg cramp cream
Natural creams created specifically for leg cramps may help reduce symptoms. For
instance, one natural ingredient that usually shows up in leg cramp creams is Arnica,
which may be useful in preventing or minimizing pain when applied in a topical cream. It has been shown to be beneficial for athletes in particular, where an application of topical Arnica helped to reduce pain after exercise.
5. Products specifically for leg cramps
Vitamins Products created specifically to help soothe leg cramps may help reduce msymptoms if the cause is due to mineral or nutrient deficiency. For example, leg cramp pills commonly contain active ingredients made from healthy minerals like magnesium or potassium to help replenish the body’s supply and maybe put a stop to this painful symptom.
It’s a painful occurrence, so it’s natural to want to find quick, easy ways of how to stop leg cramps. And there are remedies to try out, like the ones discussed above. Just remember that many times it is a case of management as opposed to getting rid of them completely. So whether you are looking to help prevent, soothe, or ease leg cramps, a natural remedy may help your body and muscles work out the kinks to become more relaxed and minimize the pain.
While leg cramps are unfortunately common, it may be valuable to talk to your doctor if you find yourself suffering from unusually consistent and painful ones. It’s also always a good idea to get a doctor’s opinion before starting any new products, especially if you are on medications.