Have you experienced leg cramps? It is probably one of the most excruciatingly painful moments many people have had. It strikes you when you least expect it. The moment it hits, you will be left balled up in pain, not being able to stand or move because your leg muscles have tightened.
What are the causes of leg cramps?
Leg cramps are caused by different things, and some of the most common ones are as follow:
- Subjecting your leg muscles to too much strain, especially when exercising
- During your sleep, you experience abnormal nerve activity that leads to your leg cramping
- Your leg muscles are not getting enough blood
- If you are suffering from peripheral neuropathy or motor neuron disease, which are two neurological conditions that affect your leg muscle nerves
- You contract some kind of bacterial infection, like tetanus, that triggers muscle spasms and cramps
- Not drinking enough water that leads to reduced salt levels in the body
- Presence of high amounts of mercury, lead, or other toxic substances in the body
- If you have liver disease, your liver is not able to flush toxins out of your body properly, resulting to muscle spasms
What happens to your leg muscles during a cramp?
If you are struck by a leg cramp, your leg muscles are shortened or contracted, resulting to a pain known as a spasm. During this occurrence, you cannot do anything to the affected muscle, and just have to wait until the spasm disappears.
If you are lucky, your leg cramp may last for only a few seconds. However, in many cases, it can take up to 10 minutes for the pain to pass.
How do you treat leg cramps?
The majority of the leg cramp incidents can be treated by taking care of the affected muscles. By exercising your legs regularly, you are lowering your risk of suffering such a painful experience.
Everyday, you can do stretching exercises to relax your calf muscles. Below are examples of simple calf exercises you can do anytime and anywhere:
Walk for as long as you can while tiptoeing. Do not let your heels get into contact with the ground at any time. It is recommended that you do this barefoot so that you can work your calves harder.
Single-leg calf raise
To begin, stand on a step with your right leg, making sure that your weight is resting on the ball of your foot. Wrap your left leg around the back of your right leg. Lower your right heel to the floor, and hold that position for a couple of seconds. Then, raise your right heel up, and hold for another couple of seconds. Return to starting position. Place your left leg on the step this time and repeat the steps.
Lay your agility ladder flat on the ground. Starting at one end, hop or run to get to the other end. Repeat as many times as you can.
You can also take painkillers if the pain persists long after your cramping episode. Over-the-counter medications, like ibuprofen or paracetamol, may alleviate the discomfort.
Going to the doctor is highly recommended too, especially if your leg cramps are happening quite often. Your doctor can examine you and determine the real cause of the problem. It is the only way to find out if your cramps may be brought about by liver disease or something more severe. It is crucial that you get a proper diagnosis to avail of the necessary treatment right away.
How do you prevent leg cramps?
To avoid subjecting yourself to the pain of leg cramps, you should observe the preventative measures below:
If you overuse your leg muscles, you are making them prone to getting hit by leg cramps. Thus, you should try to not burden them with unnecessary strain often. For instance, when sitting, make an effort to change positions as often as possible to not keep your legs in the same position for a very long time. Get up and stretch. Walk around a bit.
Drink lots of water.
When you go out for a run or workout at the gym, it is important that you not let yourself get too thirsty. Do not wait until the end of your hour-long training session to hydrate your body. You should take a gulp or two every time your body tells you that it needs hydration. You should have a water bottle with you all the time for easy access to water.
Massage your leg muscles.
After a long day, you might want to massage your leg muscles to get rid of the all the tension and tightness that accumulated during the day. Do it gently and slowly, not applying too much pressure, to work the affected muscles out. The more often you do this, the lower the chance you get struck by leg cramps again.
Apply hot or cold compress.
You should apply either a hot compress or a cold compress to your leg muscles to relieve the pain. You can test which of the two works more effectively for you. For some people, the hot sensation provides better relief, and, for others, the cold temperature is the answer.
In the winter season, make sure your legs are warm.
Once the temperature drops, your body becomes prone to different pains and discomforts. During the winter months, if your legs are too cold, they are likely going to get muscle cramps. To protect them, give them a hot bath or soak, and wear leg warmers or socks afterwards.
Meet your body’s vitamin needs.
If you are frequently attacked by leg cramps, your body is probably trying to get your attention to tell you that it is lacking vitamins to perform its functions well. Certain vitamins, like Vitamin B12, are linked to leg cramps, and not having a sufficient supply of them in the body can lead to these muscle spasms. Thus, you should start eating vitamin-rich foods, such as milk, eggs, fish, cereal, beef, clams, cheese, and yogurt.