What Causes Leg Cramps?

A leg cramp is an involuntary and sudden contraction of one or more leg muscles, particularly the calf. Nicknamed “charley horses,” leg cramps are generally harmless, but they can be debilitating and painful until they pass. Learn what causes leg cramps so you can take steps to avoid them. Then, determine when it’s necessary to see a doctor.

Causes of Leg Cramps

  • Physical exertion: Prolonged periods of exercise or physical labor, especially in hot weather, can lead to muscle cramps. It’s not uncommon for tight, painful leg cramps to stop runners in their tracks. Stretch your legs and drink plenty of water before and after exercise to help prevent this.
  • Poor circulation and nerve compression: These problems can cause muscle cramps to wake you up in the middle of the night. Stretching and doing a little light exercise, such as riding a stationary bike, right before bed can help prevent cramps while you’re sleeping.
  • Mineral depletion: Lack of potassium, calcium or magnesium in your diet may contribute to muscle cramps. Eat foods high in these minerals and take a multivitamin with your doctor’s permission.
  • Dehydration: Failure to drink enough water can make your muscles spasm and cramp up, especially during physical exertion. Keep a water bottle with you and sip from it regularly throughout the day. Remember to stay hydrated during and after exercise as well.
  • Medications: Certain drugs cause muscle cramps as a side effect. The most common of these include diuretics prescribed for high blood pressure and statins taken to treat high cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about altering your prescription if muscle cramps or other side effects are unbearable.
  • Age and medical conditions: As you get older, you lose existing muscle mass, making your remaining muscles prone to tiring. This can increase the frequency of leg You’re also at a higher risk if you have diabetes, nerve disorders, or liver or thyroid disease.

When to See Your Doctor About Leg Cramps

Charley horses and other muscle cramps usually go away on their own and rarely require medical attention. However, you should consider talking to your doctor if your cramps:

  • Happen frequently and cause severe discomfort
  • Are accompanied by muscle weakness, swelling, redness or changes to the skin
  • Don’t improve with at-home care
  • Seem to be caused by prescription medication, which you can request to have altered
  • Have no apparent cause

Perimeter Clinic offers primary care services to residents of the Atlanta area. If you don’t have a primary care physician, we are the place to come with concerns about ongoing leg cramps. We strive to provide affordable, easily accessible primary and urgent care to patients of all ages here in Georgia. To learn more about our services, or to schedule an appointment with one of our qualified physicians, please contact us at 678-999-8263.

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