Leg cramps are a pain, literally! It may not always obvious what causes them, but the pain associated with leg cramps makes them nearly impossible to ignore. The Orthopedic Institute team has compiled a list of 10 common causes of leg cramps to help you understand and avoid this pesky problem.
Have you been drinking enough water? Dehydration is one of the most common causes of leg cramps. A cramp is an involuntary contraction of a muscle. The fluids in your body allow your muscles to relax, but—when those muscles are dehydrated—they get irritable and prone to cramping. Staying hydrated, especially during physical activity, is an excellent way to avoid leg cramps.
In addition to dehydration, leg muscles can also cramp from overuse. When doing particularly intense physical activity, the nerves in your spine can become overexcited and fire involuntarily, contracting your muscles and causing a cramp. Those with more sedentary lifestyles may experience muscle overuse from more mild activities such as walking, hiking, gardening. Resting your legs and stretching often will help you avoid cramps from overuse.
Your muscles need time to recover. If you use them for extended periods of time without proper rest, the potential for leg cramps is greatly increased. As the muscles in your leg become tired, they become less efficient and require more nutrients than they would if they were rested. Avoid muscle cramps from fatigue by giving your muscles proper rest and conditioning them for any prolonged use.
4. Excessive Sitting or Standing
Bodies are meant to move, so staying in one position, regardless of whether you’re sitting or standing, puts you at greater risk for muscle cramps. Standing for too long can cause your muscles to fatigue, which will increase the likelihood of a cramp. Sitting can leave muscles in the same position for an extended period of time, which can lead them to spasm and cramp. If you sit or stand all day for work, try to alternate between sitting and standing so your body is not in one position for too long.
Certain medications prescribed to treat Alzheimer’s, high cholesterol, asthma, Parkinson’s and osteoporosis have a tendency to cause muscle cramps. If you’re experiencing leg cramps due to medication, talk to your doctor about your pain and possible medication alternatives.
6. Potassium Deficiency
Potassium in the cells of your leg muscles helps the brain tell the muscles when to start and stop contracting. When you have a potassium deficiency, these signals are not relayed properly, and muscle contractions may be prolonged, causing a cramp. Bananas are high in potassium, so adding them to your diet will help maintain proper potassium levels and avoid cramps.
7. Poor Circulation
Poor circulation in your legs can prevent your leg muscles from getting all the oxygen they need to function. This can lead to leg pain, muscle spasms and cramps. Walking, stretching, and wearing compression stockings can all help manage poor circulation in your legs and prevent cramping.
8. Excessive Alcohol Use
The nerves in your leg can be damaged by alcohol abuse. Excessive drinking can alter the levels of thiamine, folate and vitamins B6, B12, and E, which are all needed for your nerves to function properly. This is called alcoholic Neuropathy and can be the cause of leg cramps. Avoiding alcohol can restore the nutritional health of your muscles and stop your legs from cramping.
Women in the third trimester of pregnancy often experience leg cramps, especially in the evening hours. In this case, cramps can be caused by the additional weight of the baby, changes in circulation, and pressure from the baby placed on the nerves in your legs. Regular exercise, leg and or foot massages, and stretching are all ways to prevent leg cramps.
10. Multiple Sclerosis
One of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis is spasticity, a condition which causes certain muscles to be continuously contracted. Multiple sclerosis causes damage to the central nervous system, which can cause spasticity and lead to cramping in the legs. You can manage leg cramping caused by multiple sclerosis through maintaining a healthy diet, stretching and massaging your legs and treating them with hot and cold therapy.