Why Do Leg Cramps Occur?

Surely many times throughout your life you have suffered cramps, either in the arms or in the legs. Cramps are sudden, involuntary muscle contractions that cause pain. 

Cramps are usually temporary and benign. However, they can lead to the affected muscle being unable to mobilize for a period of time. Although most disappear on their own, sometimes they can be a sign that something is not working well in the body.

Leg cramps are the most common. They usually appear at night, causing the sufferer to wake up suddenly because of the pain. Although its causes are very varied, it is known that its incidence increases with age and that it tends to affect women more.

Because many people suffer from it (it is estimated that almost half of the population), in this article we explain the main causes of leg cramps and what can be done to prevent them.

What’s behind leg cramps?

Leg cramps can have a wide variety of causes. In fact, scientists are still trying to investigate the exact mechanism by which they occur and what situations trigger them.

However, a series of situations are known that are notably related to leg cramps. In the first place, the researchers point out that they  tend to appear in moments of fatigue and muscle fatigue after exercise.

leg cramps

Another very common reason is to lie down for a long time or press the muscles of the legs in certain positions. This explains many of the cases that appear at dawn.

Cramps are related to the activity of motor neurons, which are responsible for stimulating muscle movement. Thus, it is partly understood why they appear in a large number of neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease.

Similarly, certain drugs are known to increase leg cramps. In fact, it is a major side effect of cancer treatments. Almost 80% of treated patients say they suffer from them.

It is important to note that, in reality, the most frequent cause and, at the same time, the easiest to solve is dehydration  or the alteration of the concentrations of certain ions in the blood. Both situations usually go together.

What other causes can exist?

People who are on hemodialysis often experience these leg cramps. It is related, precisely, with that imbalance of ions in the blood. For example, with the case of potassium.

In addition, it seems that diseases of the vascular system, such as obstruction of the coronary arteries or certain vessels in the legs, are also associated with these cramps.

How can leg cramps be prevented or relieved?

Leg cramps, depending on their cause, can be avoided or alleviated. They usually last around 9 minutes and, in addition, they usually repeat in the same hour or during the same night. Therefore, when they are very frequent, people who suffer from it end up suffering from insomnia.

The first measure to try to avoid them is to move frequently and try not to stay in the same position for long. It is also advisable to do stretching exercises during the day or just before going to sleep.

Flexibility with some exercises.

Also, cold has been linked to leg cramps, so it is best to stay in a warm environment. Once they appear, you can try to relax the area with a small massage on the muscle.

The truth is that there is no medical treatment to avoid them. Some doctors recommend certain vitamin or magnesium and sodium supplements. However, they are not proven to be effective.

Consult with your doctor

Leg cramps are a very common situation, with a very varied etiology. It is not known exactly why they occur or how to treat them. Ideally, if they appear repeatedly, a doctor should be consulted to rule out that they are associated with any pathology.

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