Leg cramps are an involuntary contraction of a single muscle or a group of muscles in the leg. These are usually painful and extremely discomforting. Leg cramps often occur in elderly patients though age is no criteria as it is often seen in young people too. Leg cramps generally occur in the calf muscle, the hamstring and the quadriceps. The duration of a leg cramp ranges from less than a minute to several minutes at times.
Cramps are characterized by sudden and abrupt appearances, with mild twitching sensations or an outburst of excruciating pain. Leg cramps are characterized by the following symptoms
• Severe leg pain.
• Muscle tenderness.
• Inability to move the leg for the duration the cramp lasts. The muscle in the affected area would most likely feel extremely tense and would be hard if touched.
The exact cause of a leg cramp is extremely difficult to pinpoint, some of the factors leading to the same are as follows -
• Muscle fatigue due to overexertion
• Rigorous exercises
• Excess weight
• Electrolyte, hormonal or fluid imbalances
• Side effects of certain medicines such as diuretics.
• An unusual or a different exercise than what is done normally.
• Diminished blood supply.
• Nerve abnormalities.
• Nerve and muscle diseases
Although checking with your doctor is the best way to identify why this is happening, try some of these easy at home ways of reducing the pain.
. Rub the area gently for immediate relief. Put your legs out in front of you and flex your foot toward the ceiling, slowly, to gently stretch the calf muscle. Elongate your leg to get the most from the stretch.
. Keep leg pain from occurring by gently yet thoroughly stretching before exercise. Before beginning any exercise routine, consult your doctor.
. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. This will help flush toxins from your body. Limit sports drinks because they contain sodium which can aggravate cramping in some people. Also, foods high in calcium like low-fat milk, yogurt and cheeses have been known to help.
. The nutrient Carnitine is essential for muscular health. Although you can get it from foods, you would have to eat a lot of red meat, which isn't healthy. Check your local health food store for the tablets and follow the instructions.
. Stretching your muscles gently with light exercise like riding a stationary bicycle for a few minutes before going to bed can help loosen up and strengthen the muscles. This would greatly limit the occurrence or severity of night leg cramps.
. A hot shower or soak in a warm bath should also offer considerable relief.
. Multi-vitamin and mineral supplements may help, but should only be taken after consulting with a nutritionist or doctor for the appropriate dosage. Calcium, potassium, and magnesium deficiencies are often the cause for night leg cramps.
. Try and consume fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole meal varieties of grains, not the refined varieties as the process generally destroys most of their nutritional value. Grains for that matter lose up to 85% of their magnesium when finely milled. Fruits like dates and bananas are rich sources of magnesium and potassium.
. While milk and dairy products like cheese are rich in calcium, their high phosphorus levels reduce their effectiveness as calcium replacement sources. It would be best to get the required dosage of calcium from supplements that do not contain phosphorus.