Leg cramps – what are they?

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Leg cramps can be caused by various factors and may occur during sleep or exercise. Dehydration, muscle strain, and certain medications can increase the likelihood of cramps. Preventative measures include staying hydrated, stretching, and increasing potassium intake. Persistent nocturnal cramps may require medical attention.

Leg cramps are contractions of the leg muscle that often cause a significant amount of pain. There can be several causes responsible for cramps. In many cases, they can be prevented. However, some may be genetically predisposed to cramps and there may be little that can be done to stop them.
There are two best times when cramps are most likely to occur. They can happen at night, while an individual is sleeping, causing them to wake up in excruciating pain. They can also occur during periods of strenuous exercise. If cramps occur during exercise, they may not be as severe, simply because steps can be taken if the person is awake to reduce the severity.

While the exact cause of nocturnal leg cramps isn’t known, there are times when they seem to occur more often. Muscle strain from the previous day, dehydration, pregnancy diabetes, certain medications, and even alcohol use can mean a higher incidence of cramps. Nocturnal cramps often strike an individual without warning, although some may be aware of some tension in the muscle before the cramping begins in earnest.

Leg cramps when running and swimming cramps often occur among athletes, especially those who have been engaged in such exercise for an extended period of time. In these situations, dehydration is often considered the root cause of cramps. Athletes can be treated for cramping by getting more fluids or perhaps even getting intravenous fluids if the dehydration is severe enough.

Leg cramps are very easy to identify. Often occurring in the calf or thigh, they cause severe pain that usually lasts less than a minute, although it may last for several minutes. Putting pressure on the leg, either by standing on it or by pushing it against a solid object, can help relieve the pressure. Stretching it out can also reduce gravity.

Preventing leg cramps involves controlling the situations that are most likely to cause them. Staying hydrated is perhaps the most recommended way to prevent a cramp. Stretching, getting enough potassium, and gradually increasing your exercise load are other common ways to prevent leg cramps.

In some cases, if nocturnal leg cramps are persistent, it is advisable to consult a doctor. If a cause for the cramps can be determined, your doctor may be able to prescribe a medicine, lifestyle change, or supplement that can help reduce the frequency and severity of the cramps. While this may not prevent all cramps, any relief for those who experience frequent leg cramps is welcome.

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