- Charley Horse
- Muscle Spasms | Charley Horse | MedlinePlus
- What causes muscle cramps?
- Who is at risk for muscle cramps?
- When do I need to see a health care provider about muscle cramps?
- What are the treatments for muscle cramps?
- Can muscle cramps be prevented?
- Muscle Cramps (Charley Horse) and Muscle Spasm Remedies
- Leg Cramps: A Sign of Underlying Illness?
- Leg Cramp at Night (Nocturnal Leg Cramps): Causes & Treatment
- Who gets nocturnal leg cramps?
- Are nocturnal leg cramps the same as restless legs syndrome?
- What causes nocturnal leg cramps?
- Leg Cramps
- What to look for
- Managing leg cramps
- What the patient can do
- What caregivers can do
- Call the health care team if the patient
- 13 Causes of Leg Cramps–and How To Stop Them
- Leg cramps
A charley horse is a muscle spasm — when a muscle suddenly tightens up on its own. These cramps can happen anywhere in your body. They’re common in your legs.
Things that can trigger a charley horse include:
Muscle cramps are also a side effect of some drugs, such as:
- Furosemide (Lasix), hydrochlorothiazide (Microzide), and other diuretics (“water pills”) that take fluid your body
- Donepezil (Aricept), used to treat Alzheimer's disease
- Neostigmine (Prostigmine), used for myasthenia gravis
- Nifedipine (Procardia), a treatment for angina and high blood pressure
- Raloxifene (Evista), an osteoporosis treatment
- Asthma medications terbutaline (Brethine) and albuterol (Proventil, Ventolin)
- Tolcapone (Tasmar), which helps treat Parkinson's disease
- Statin medications for cholesterol, such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor), or simvastatin (Zocor)
Certain people tend to get charley horses more often:
You don’t need to see your doctor unless you have a charley horse along with one of these conditions:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. They’ll also do a physical exam. They might order blood tests, muscle tests, or MRI exams to look for a health condition that can cause cramps.
If you get a charley horse in your calf or in the back of your thigh (hamstring), put your weight on the affected leg and bend your knee slightly. Or sit or lie down with your leg out straight and pull the top of your foot toward your head.
For a cramp in the front of your thigh (quadriceps), hold on to a chair and bend the knee of the affected leg. Pull your foot up toward your buttock.
Massage, a bath with Epsom salts, or a heating pad can relax the muscle. To fight pain, use an ice pack or take an over-the-counter medication ibuprofen or naproxen.
In most cases, the charley horse will stop within a few minutes. But if you get them often and for no clear reason, tell your doctor.
To help stop cramps before they start:
- Eat more foods high in vitamins and magnesium.
- Stay hydrated.
- Stretch daily and before exercise. Stretching before exercise can help prevent tight muscles. Daily stretching can help with cramps caused by other things.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink.
- Ramp up your exercise slowly rather than all at once.
- Don’t exercise right after you eat.
- Don’t smoke.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery: “Muscle Cramp.”
Northwestern Health Sciences University: “Charley Horses — Why Do I Get Them and How Can I Stop Them?”
LECOM College of Osteopathic Medicine: “Muscle cramp — A common pain.”
National Library of Medicine: “Muscle Cramps.”
New England Baptist Hospital: “What is a Charley Horse and How Can I Ease My Muscle Cramp?”
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: “What Causes Charley Horses?”
Mayo Clinic: “Muscle cramp.”
Merck Manual Consumer Version: “Muscle Cramps.”
Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials: “Don’t Let Foot Cramps and Charley Horses Slow You Down.”
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Muscle Spasms | Charley Horse | MedlinePlus
URL of this page: https://medlineplus.gov/musclecramps.html
Also called: Charley horse
Muscle cramps are sudden, involuntary contractions or spasms in one or more of your muscles. They are very common and often occur after exercise. Some people get muscle cramps, especially leg cramps, at night. They can be painful, and they may last a few seconds to several minutes.
You can have a cramp in any muscle, but they happen most often in the
- Area along your ribcage
What causes muscle cramps?
Causes of muscle cramps include:
- Straining or overusing a muscle. This is the most common cause.
- Compression of your nerves, from problems such as a spinal cord injury or a pinched nerve in the neck or back
- Low levels of electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium, or calcium
- Not enough blood getting to your muscles
- Certain medicines
- Getting dialysis
Sometimes the cause of muscle cramps is unknown.
Who is at risk for muscle cramps?
Anyone can get muscle cramps, but they are more common in some people:
- Older adults
- People who are overweight
- Pregnant women
- People with certain medical conditions, such as thyroid and nerve disorders
When do I need to see a health care provider about muscle cramps?
Muscle cramps are usually harmless, and they go away after a few minutes. But you should contact your health care provider if the cramps
- Are severe
- Happen frequently
- Don't get better with stretching and drinking enough fluids
- Last a long time
- Are accompanied by swelling, redness, or a feeling of warmth
- Are accompanied by muscle weakness
What are the treatments for muscle cramps?
You usually don't need treatment for muscle cramps. You may be able to find some relief from cramps by
- Stretching or gently massaging the muscle
- Applying heat when the muscle is tight and ice when the muscle is sore
- Getting more fluids if you are dehydrated
If another medical problem is causing the cramps, treating that problem will ly help. There are medicines that providers sometimes prescribe to prevent cramps, but they are not always effective and may cause side effects. Talk to your provider about the risks and benefits of medicines.
Can muscle cramps be prevented?
To prevent muscle cramps, you can
- Stretch your muscles, especially before exercising. If you often get leg cramps at night, stretch your leg muscles before bed.
- Drink plenty of liquids. If you do intense exercise or exercise in the heat, sports drinks can help you replace electrolytes.
- Muscle Cramp – A Common Pain (American Osteopathic Association)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Muscle Cramp (National Institutes of Health)
- Your Muscles (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
Muscle Cramps (Charley Horse) and Muscle Spasm Remedies
There are three types of muscles in the body. Cardiac muscle makes up the heart. Smooth muscle cells line the blood vessels, gastrointestinal tract, and certain organs. Skeletal muscles attach to the bones and are used for voluntarily movements of the body.
Muscle spasms occur when a skeletal muscle contracts and does not relax. Muscle spasms are forceful and involuntary. A sustained muscle spasm is called a muscle cramp.
Leg muscles, especially the quadriceps (thigh), hamstrings (back of thigh), and gastrocnemius (calves), are most ly to cramp, but any skeletal muscle in the body can cramp. A “charley horse” is another name for a muscle cramp.
There are many potential causes of muscle cramps including physical exertion in hot weather, overexertion, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and physical deconditioning.
Many times muscle cramps are not cause for alarm; however, at other times muscle cramps may indicate a more serious underlying problem such as liver cirrhosis, atherosclerosis, ALS, thyroid disorders, or a problem or issue with the spine or spinal nerves. Certain medications and supplements may be associated with muscle cramps.
Muscle cramps can range from being a mild nuisance to incapacitating and extremely painful. The cramped muscle may be visibly distorted or look knotted. Twitching may be evident. The area of a muscle cramp may be firm to the touch. Some muscle cramps last just a few seconds, while others can last 15 minutes or more.
High blood pressure medications, insulin, birth control pills, cholesterol-lowering medications, and certain types of asthma medications (beta-agonists) may cause muscle cramps.
These medications cause cramps by a variety of mechanisms. They may interfere with electrolyte levels, contribute to the breakdown of muscle tissue, or interfere with blood flow.
Report medication-related muscle cramps to your doctor.
Muscle cramps at night, especially in the calves, are very common and affect up to 60% of adults. Women are more ly to suffer from nocturnal leg cramps than men. They are also more common with age and contribute to insomnia.
Muscle fatigue and nerve dysfunction are believed to be contribute to nocturnal leg cramps.
Management of nocturnal leg cramps may include stretching, massage, and treatment of any underlying disorders that contribute to the condition.
Many pregnant women experience muscle cramps, especially in the legs and at night, during pregnancy. The levels of fluids and electrolytes in the body fluctuate during pregnancy, which may contribute to leg cramps. Increased pressure on pelvic nerves may also play a role.
The vast majority of leg cramps resolve on their own within a few minutes without treatment. As soon as a muscle cramp comes on, stop doing the activity that precipitated it.
Stretching and massaging the area may help relieve muscle cramps. Apply heat to help relax a cramped muscle. A cold pack and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help relieve pain.
Always consult a doctor if muscle cramps are severe or if they recur frequently.
Pain medications, muscle relaxants, and anticonvulsants may be used to treat muscle cramps. It's best to use lifestyle interventions hydration, stretching, and the application of heat and cold to treat muscle cramps, but medication may be helpful when other strategies are ineffective.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may include symptoms muscle aches, muscle tension, and twitching. Anxiety is often accompanied by other body symptoms such as fatigue, sweating, nausea, and shortness of breath.
Strategies for reducing the risk of muscle cramps include varying exercise routines, staying well hydrated, and stretching.
Warm up by jogging or walking at a brisk pace before stretching the calves, hamstrings, and quads. Maintaining good levels of electrolytes will help, too.
Sodium and potassium are lost during exercise, especially in the heat and with excessive sweating. Sports drinks can help replenish sodium and potassium.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
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- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: “Muscle Cramp.”
- American Academy Physician: “AAN Recommendations on Symptomatic Treatment for Muscle Cramps.”
- American Family Physician: “Nocturnal Leg Cramps.”
- American Osteopathic Association: “Muscle Cramp – A Common Pain.”
- Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: “The Athlete With Muscular Cramps: Clinical Approach.”
- National Cancer Institute: “Muscle Types.”
- National Institute of Mental Health: “What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?”
- Neurological Disorders and Pregnancy: “Muscle Cramps.”
- University of Maryland Medical Center: “Muscle Cramps.”
Leg Cramps: A Sign of Underlying Illness?
Leg Cramps: A Sign of Underlying Illness?
Yvette C. Terrie, BSPharm, RPh
Leg cramps are characterized by sudden, severe, and involuntary muscle contractions.1 Leg cramps commonly affect the calf muscles but may occur in the hamstrings or muscles of the feet, especially at night (ie nocturnal leg cramps).2-4 These nocturnal cramps that occur primarily during sleep are classically characterized as unilateral, painful, and palpable, involuntary muscle contractions that often are localized and have a sudden onset.5 Leg cramps may also occur during periods of rest in the day.
Although anyone can experience leg cramps, the incidence is highest in women and older adults, affecting an estimated 33% of individuals older than 60 and an estimated 50% of individuals older than 80.
1 Individuals with leg cramps may complain of sleep disturbances that may negatively affect their overall well-being. Pregnant women are extremely prone to leg cramps at night, especially during the second and third trimesters.
1 Up to 20% of patients who experience leg cramps have troublesome enough daily symptoms that they seek medical attention.6
The majority of leg cramps are idiopathic and harmless, but some may result from underlying illnesses such as diabetes or peripheral artery disease.
1,6 Other examples of secondary causes include neurologic disorders, structural disorders or positioning of the leg, and metabolic disorders, including extracellular fluid volume depletion and electrolyte disturbances.
Medications such as statins, diuretics, and oral contraceptives may increase the risk of leg cramps, too.1,6
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) can be confused with leg cramps, but they are 2 distinct conditions.
5 RLS is a neurologic movement disorder that causes limb sensations in which a person exhibits an uncontrollable urge to move the legs and is often associated with disruptions in sleep.
5 RLS, leg cramps may have a circadian pattern and frequently occur at rest; however, nocturnal leg cramps are linked to physical changes, including muscle hardening and pain, which are not observed in RLS.5
Although studies have revealed that quinine sulfate may be helpful in treating leg cramps, the FDA banned its OTC use in 1994 because of the risk for potentially dangerous and fatal adverse reactions, thrombocytopenia, and cardiac arrhythmia.7 In 2006, the FDA also banned the marketing of off-label prescription quinine products. Quinine remains available by prescription for the treatment of malaria, but its risks as prophylaxis or a treatment for nocturnal leg cramps outweigh any potential benefits, and the FDA warns against its use in prescription form.7,8 Fardet et al8 report that the use of quinine for nocturnal leg cramps was linked to a 3-fold higher mortality rate in individuals younger than 50.
No specific medication is indicated for leg cramps; however, several have been used, including calcium-channel blockers, such as diltiazem, and vitamin B complex.1,7 Some health care providers may suggest the use of OTC analgesics for pain in certain cases.
Also available are nonprescription products formulated with homeopathic ingredients for the treatment of leg cramps.
Patients with preexisting medical conditions should consult their primary health care provider before taking any medication, including OTC products, to avoid potential contraindications or drug–drug interactions.
NONPHARMACOLOGIC MEASURES AND PREVENTIVE STRATEGIES
Nonpharmacologic therapies such as hydration, warm or cold compresses, exercise, and muscle stretches may provide some relief from leg cramps.7 Leg cramps can be prevented if the underlying cause is treated. Other preventive measures may include the following:
- Maintaining adequate hydration
- Stretching leg muscles before going to sleep
- Wearing shoes that fit properly
- Establishing a routine exercise regimen, if appropriate
Patients who experience severe and/or continual leg cramps should be encouraged to seek further assistance from their primary health care provider. References1. Nordqvist C. Leg cramps: causes, diagnosis, and treatments. Medical News Today website. http://medicalnewstoday.com/articles/180160.php. Published December 10, 2015. Accessed June 7, 2017.2. Hallegraeff J, de Greef M, Krijnen W, et al. Criteria in diagnosing nocturnal leg cramps: a systematic review. BioMed Central website. bmcfampract.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12875-017-0600-x. Published February 28, 2017. Accessed June 14, 2017.3. Nocturnal leg cramps. Cleveland Clinic website. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/nocturnal-leg-cramps. Published October 2014. Accessed June 7, 2017.
4. Monderer RS, Wu WP, Thorpy MJ. Nocturnal leg cramps. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2010;10(1):53-59. doi: 10.1007/s11910-009-0079-5.
5. Bozorg A. Restless legs syndrome differential diagnosis. Medscape website. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1188327-differential#1. Published February 22, 2017. Accessed June 7, 2017.
6. Allen RE, Kirby KA. Nocturnal leg cramps. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(4):350-355.
7. Walker J. How can leg cramps be treated? The Medscape website. http://medscape.com/viewarticle/723218. Published June 10, 2014. Accessed June 7, 2017.
8. Fardet L, Nazareth I, Petersen I. Association between long-term quinine exposure and all-cause mortality. JAMA. 2017;317(18):1907-1909. doi: 10.1001/jama.2017.2332.
Ms. Terrie is a clinical pharmacist and medical writer based in Haymarket, Virginia.
Leg Cramp at Night (Nocturnal Leg Cramps): Causes & Treatment
Leg Cramps at Night
Nocturnal leg cramps are pains that occur in the legs during the night. They usually cause awakenings from sleep, but they may also occur while awake at night during periods of inactivity.
These cramps mostly happen in the calf muscles but can also occur in the thighs or feet. Nocturnal leg cramps are quite painful and cause the affected muscles to feel tight or knotted. Symptoms may last from several seconds up to several minutes.
There might also be muscle soreness after the cramp goes away.
Who gets nocturnal leg cramps?
Although anyone can get nocturnal leg cramps, the number of people who get them increases with age. Slightly more women than men experience these leg cramps.
Nocturnal leg cramps have been reported by:
- 50 to 60 percent of adults
- 7 percent of children and teens
- 40 percent of pregnant women
Some 20 percent of patients who experience nocturnal leg cramps on a daily basis seek medical attention.
Are nocturnal leg cramps the same as restless legs syndrome?
No. While both types of leg disturbances tend to happen at night, or at rest, restless leg syndrome does not cause severe, cramping pain.
While restless legs syndrome can be painful, it is more of a discomfort, or a crawling sensation that results in a desire to move the legs. While moving, the restlessness is relieved, but the discomfort returns when movement stops.
This does not happen with nocturnal leg cramps where the tightened muscle needs to be actively stretched out for relief.
What causes nocturnal leg cramps?
The cause of nocturnal leg cramps is often times unknown, but some cases have been linked to:
- Sitting for long periods of time
- Over-exertion of the muscles
- Standing or working on concrete floors
- Sitting improperly
Nocturnal leg cramps have also been linked to certain medical conditions and medications. These include:
- Narrowing of the arteries/circulation-related diseases
- Narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back (lumbar canal stenosis), which can compress nerves that travel from lower back to legs
- Cirrhosis of the liver (scarring of the liver) due to alcoholism, hepatitis, or other causes
- Dehydration/electrolyte imbalances
- Parkinson’s disease
- Nerve damage from cancer treatment
- Kidney failure/hemodialysis
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Neuromuscular disorders (neuropathy, myopathy, motor neuron disease)
- Structural disorders (flat feet)
- Endocrine disorders (diabetes, hypothyroidism)
- Medications: IV iron sucrose, conjugated estrogens, raloxifene (Evista®), naproxen (Naprosyn®), teriparatide (Forteo®)
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/31/2019.
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Cancer and its treatment may cause problems that lead to patients having leg and other types of muscle cramps. Leg cramps or spasms are painful tightenings of the muscles in the leg, ankle, or foot. But it's important to know that other non-cancer related conditions and medicines can also cause problems that might cause leg cramps.
Some possible causes of leg cramps in people who have cancer include:
- Certain chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy drugs
- Radiation therapy to the lower extremities (hips, legs, etc)
- Some hormone drugs (tamoxifen or raloxifene)
- Medications to treat bone loss
- Tumors that start in a muscle or press on a muscle
- Having too many white blood cells or treatment given for too few white cells
- Staying in bed or being inactive for longer than usual
- Overuse of certain muscles
- Changes in the temperature around you
- Peripheral neuropathy or other nerve damage
- Changes in electrolyte (blood chemistry) levels, especially phosphorus, calcium, glucose (sugar), or potassium
- Non-cancer health problems
What to look for
- Sudden pain or discomfort in a leg or foot and a tight or stiff muscle
- Trouble moving the foot, or pain when moving the foot or leg
- Changes in your quality of sleep if leg cramps happen at night.
Managing leg cramps
Your health care team can create a plan to help improve your sleep and manage leg cramps. One way to manage severe or frequent leg cramps is with a temporary muscle relaxant that can be prescribed by your doctor.
What the patient can do
- Tell your health care team about any leg cramps. They may be able to give you medicine to help prevent or reduce them, or to manage the pain they cause.
- Apply heat or cold to legs when they cramp, if it’s OK with your health care team. Ask what kind of heat or cold is best to use and how long you should use it.
- Keep warm, and change position often.
- If you are bed-bound, try propping the covers up or using a bed cradle to protect the legs and feet from the weight of the blankets. A bed cradle is a support at the end of the bed that holds the sheets and blankets up off the legs and feet.
- Exercise your legs in bed by bending and straightening them several times throughout the day. A caregiver can help move your legs for you if you can’t.
- Gently stretching the muscles before lying down may help prevent cramping.
- Massage the leg, if it’s OK with your health care team.
- When you have a cramp, sit up or stand up to stretch the tight muscle as much as you can without hurting it. For example, for a calf muscle cramp, try pointing the toes upward toward the knees, or walk around.
- Follow your health care team’s instructions for correcting dehydration, or blood level imbalances in calcium, potassium, or phosphorus.
What caregivers can do
- Help the patient gently stretch the tight muscle if they can’t.
- Use heat, ice, or a cold washcloth to gently rub the cramped muscle if OK with the health care team and depending on which provides more comfort.
- If medicines are prescribed to prevent cramping, be sure they are taken as directed and watch for dizziness or stumbling.
Call the health care team if the patient
- Has a cramped leg that becomes red, swollen, hard, tender or warm.
- If the patient has pain in the chest, arm, back, shoulder, or jaw, sudden coughing, increased heart rate or feeling light-headed, this can be an urgent problem and you might need to go to the nearest hospital emergency room right away.
- Has cramping that’s not relieved by cold, heat, massage, or by stretching the cramped muscle (as described above).
- Has cramping that lasts for more than 6 to 8 hours.
13 Causes of Leg Cramps–and How To Stop Them
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These sudden, involuntary muscle contractions are common and usually harmless, but they can be excruciatingly painful. We asked experts to explain what causes leg cramps and how you can avoid them in the future.
If you haven't already, you will probably experience leg cramps at some point in your life.
They can hit at the worst possible moments; whether you're lying in bed at night or taking a run on the treadmill, that sharp stabbing pain can feel totally debilitating.
If leg cramps, also called charley horses, persist, they can become even more irritating, perhaps knocking you off your typical exercise or sleep routine.
A leg cramp is a sharp, sudden contraction or tightening of the muscle in the calf, which usually lasts a few seconds to a few minutes. If a cramp does hit, you can ease it in the moment by stretching the muscle gently. To find a long-term solution to leg cramps, however, you might need to take a closer look at their many potential causes.
To keep leg cramps at bay, make sure you're nourishing your body and getting enough rest. You'll also want to rule out any underlying issues that could be contributing to leg cramping, such as peripheral artery disease or thyroid issues. See a doctor when cramps prevent you from exercising, or if they seem to happen spontaneously without a trigger.
Here, experts weigh in on the major reasons you might be experiencing leg cramps, so you can keep those muscles free of charley horses for good.
RELATED: This Viral Video Shows the Most Bizarre-Looking Leg Cramp We've Ever Seen
One of the classic causes of leg cramps is dehydration. “Athletes and avid exercisers deal with cramps all the time,” says Mark D. Peterson, PhD, research assistant professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Medical School, “especially during the summer months, in the heat without enough liquid.
” The reason dehydration causes cramping is largely theoretical, says Todd J. Sontag, DO, family physician with Orlando Health Physician Associates. It may be that fluid depletion causes nerve endings to become sensitized, “triggering contractions in the space around the nerve and increasing pressure on motor nerve endings,” he says.
This depletion is exacerbated by hot conditions or exercising, since you lose more fluid through sweat.
RELATED: 14 Surprising Causes of Dehydration
Hans Neleman/Getty Images
It's not just water that you sweat out. Lost electrolytes can also contribute to leg cramping. If you're low in certain electrolytes and other minerals, that imbalance can trigger spontaneous cramping.
An imbalance in sodium, calcium, magnesium, or potassium could all lead to leg cramping, says Gerardo Miranda-Comas, MD, associate program director of the sports medicine fellowship at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Sports drinks can help reduce cramps thanks to their sodium, as can eating wisely.
Bananas, sweet potatoes, spinach, yogurt, and nuts are rich in those muscle-friendly minerals and may ward off the deficiencies that could cause leg cramps.
RELATED: 5 Signs You're Not Getting Enough Potassium
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Pregnancy increases a woman's risk for leg cramps, especially during the second and third trimesters. “This is most ly because the odds of magnesium and potassium deficiency are higher during pregnancy,” Peterson says. If you're pregnant and experiencing leg cramps, stay hydrated and consider taking a magnesium supplement–with your doctor's approval.
Jordan Siemens/Getty Images
Independent of an exerciser's hydration status, many experience leg cramping due to overuse. “If you're going on a long run, or you're doing a boot camp, you might experience cramping later on,” Peterson says.
“The nervous system is usually the culprit.” When the nerves running from the brain and spinal cord down to the muscle become overexcited, you often wind up with an involuntary cramp.
Rest and stretching is extra important in these situations.
RELATED: How to Start Running (or Come Back From a Hiatus) Without Getting Hurt, According to Pros
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When you're trying to kick your routine up a notch–increasing your biking mileage, starting to swim for triathlon training–your muscles aren't automatically used to the new intensity and movement.
“Whenever cramps are induced by starting or restarting an exercise, that's usually an indication of 'too much, too soon,'” Dr. Miranda-Comas explains.
“Your muscles don't act and respond the same when you jog and sprint, for instance, so any increase in workout volume or intensity can trigger cramps.”
RELATED: What Exactly Is CrossFit—and Is It Actually Good for You?
You may be more prone to leg cramps when you're already overtired. You might be more lax in your diet or forget to hydrate effectively, or, if your body hasn't had enough time to properly recover from your last b exercise, your muscles might already be in rough shape.
“Physiologically, when the muscle is fatigued, it's not as synchronized in using nutrients,” Dr. Miranda-Comas says. In other words, a tired muscle loses more nutrients than it uses, so it's not functioning at its peak.
Nighttime or nocturnal leg cramps, which affect more than half of adults, can also be triggered by tiredness. “Although there is no one definitive cause [of nighttime leg cramps], they are ly associated with muscle fatigue and nerve dysfunction,” Dr. Sontag explains.
“There's also new research to suggest athletes that underwent higher-than-normal-intensity exercise had an increase in the incidence of nocturnal leg cramps.”
RELATED: 14 Reasons You're Always Tired
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Muscles were made to move, contract, and rest, so if you're doing anything the ordinary–sitting at a conference all day, standing in line at an amusement park–you might experience some leg cramping.
Standing for a prolonged period of time can understandably contribute to muscle fatigue, which in turn can cause cramping, Dr. Sontag says. But too much sitting isn't necessarily better.
Prolonged sitting “may predispose the muscles to malfunction,” he explains, as the muscle fibers may become hyperactive. When the muscle is “on” and can't relax, you end up getting a cramp.
If you get leg cramps from standing, make sure to take a seat before your muscles feel too tired. And if you cramp from sitting for long periods of time, try to spend at least a couple of minutes walking around per hour that you're seated.
RELATED: This 6-Step Yoga Flow Will Open Up Your Tight Hips
If there's no obvious cause of your leg cramps, then you might want to take a look at any recent additions to your medication list, Dr. Sontag says.
Diuretics, a class of medications used to lower blood pressure, may trigger cramps because they deplete the body of fluid and salts, he explains.
Other medications that may cause leg cramps include osteoporosis drugs raloxifene and teriparatide; intravenous iron sucrose (used to treat anemia); asthma medications albuterol; conjugated estrogens (used to treat menopause symptoms); and pain meds naproxen and pregabalin.
Commonly prescribed statins are also associated with muscle cramps in general, he adds. Talk to your doctor if you started taking a new medication at the onset of your leg cramps; Dr. Sontag says he is usually able to find an alternative medication for his patients.
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If your leg cramps seem spontaneous and not exercise-related, it's important to see your doctor to rule out underlying concerns. Some, for instance, “those that affect how the body moves electrolytes,” Dr.
Miranda-Comas says, can cause leg cramps. Others, peripheral artery disease, when cholesterol clogs blood vessels in the legs, affect blood flow.
PAD can trigger cramps since there may not be enough blood getting to the legs.
RELATED: Heart Attack Signs Every Woman Should Know
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Leg cramps can also be a symptom of the nervous system disorder multiple sclerosis. Some people with MS experience spasticity, which can include a range of involuntary muscle spasms and twitches, as well as leg cramps. Spasticity might feel a mild tightness or tingling in the muscles to some people or more severe cramping and pain to others.
Left untreated, spasticity can cause frozen or immobilized joints, so talk to your doctor if you have symptoms of MS.
RELATED: Could You Have MS? 16 Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
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Much overexcited nerves can cause overuse-related leg cramps, nerves that malfunction for other reasons can lead to cramping too. Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is usually categorized by stiff and achy joints.
But people with the painful condition may also experience muscle spasms and leg cramps. These leg cramps are usually linked to osteoarthritis of the spine, which, when severe, could lead to pinched nerves or other nerve damage.
RELATED: 5 Things You Need to Know About Osteoarthritis, Even If You’re Young
Too-high blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes can lead to damage to the nerves in the legs, feet, arms, and hands called diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
This nerve damage often leads to feelings of numbness or tingling, but it can also produce muscle twitching and full-blown leg cramps when the nerves in the legs aren't functioning properly.
Diabetes treatment can help prevent any further nerve damage, but a doctor might recommend pain medication or anticonvulsant drugs to tamp down the leg cramps.
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Thyroid conditions may also contribute to leg cramps, Dr. Sontag says. People with hypothyroidism produce too little thyroid hormone, and overtime that deficiency can damage the nerves that send signals from your brain and spine to your arms and legs. Some people with underactive thyroids will feel tingling or numbness in their muscles, while others might experience leg cramps.
Always check with a doctor if you have unresolved leg cramps, especially with adequate nutrition, hydration, and stretching.
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