You might have experienced suddenly waking up at night with an intense pain in your calf. You know how painful that is and it takes a few minutes before it goes away. After that, you’d still feel tenderness and pain in your leg that lasted for several hours.
Leg cramps happen when the muscle contracts suddenly and involuntarily. It causes muscle spasms and you will be unable to control the muscle, thus it will be difficult to walk or stand. Leg cramps usually happen in older people and pregnant women, after an intense exercise or physical activity, due to dehydration after an exercise, taking certain medications, and in some cases, because of liver disease, diabetes, or nerve disorders.
Leg cramps are usually harmless and would go away after more or less 10 minutes. Some leg cramps can be caused by other underlying medical conditions, such as when the arteries are narrowed resulting in inadequate blood supply to the legs. This can happen during exercise and spasms will go away after the physical activity is stopped.
Compression of the nerves in the spine can also cause leg cramps. The spasms worsens when walking. Insufficient minerals in the body, like calcium, magnesium or potassium, can cause leg cramps. Some medications, such as diuretics, can diminish the levels of these minerals,
Leg cramps can be prevented by drinking plenty of fluids, especially after an intense workout or sporting activity. Enough hydration will replenish the fluids in the muscles, thus helping the muscles to relax and contract.
Stretching before a strenuous physical activity, exercise or sport will prevent occurence of leg cramps. It will also help to do stretching before bedtime to avoid leg cramp episodes at night. Getting enough exercise in the legs will also reduce risk of spasms in the leg muscle.
Leg cramps usually go away on their own and may not require immediate medical attention. However, you should consult a doctor if your cramps come with the following:
- Severe pain and discomfort
- Swelling, redness, or changes in the skin on both legs
- Paleness and unusual coolness of the skin
- Trouble breathing
- Weakness of the muscle
- Episodes occur frequently
- Home remedies don’t provide relief
- Cramps occur suddenly without any obvious causes
- Interferes with your daily life
The doctor may recommend doing a physical exam and order imaging tests. Your physician may ask for a leg x-ray, MRI, CT scan or ultrasound to look at the bones, tissues and joints. Venography tests can also detect whether you have a blood clot. Blood tests can provide indications whether you have inflammations, nutritional deficiency, disorders in the immune system, high cholesterol, diabetes, and the like.
If the cause of the leg cramp or pain is more severe or was a result of a more serious injury, damage to the nerve or tissue, the doctor may recommend a longer and regular treatment or surgery. Torn tendons, bone fractures, arthritis, or neuropathy are among the conditions that may require surgery.
Oral medications, dietary supplements, and alternative therapies such as acupuncture and massages can help alleviate leg cramp pain. If leg cramps were a result of an injury, you may consult a physical therapist so the appropriate stretches and exercises can be recommended to aid in recovery and rehabilitation. A PT can also determine if you would need additional orthotic devices or support such as foot braces or cane.
Tribeca Physical Therapy can help you resolve your leg cramp problems. We have highly qualified physical therapists to make evaluations and provide recommendations on treatments. Send them a message today.