The causes and cures of painful leg cramps

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There are many things you can do to stop muscle cramps. Source: Getty

If you’ve ever experienced a leg cramp, you’ll know just how painful it can be.

They usually appear out of nowhere and cause serious pain when your muscle suddenly contracts. It can happen during the day, but often catch people off guard when the muscle randomly starts spasming.

The cramps can sometimes last for just a few seconds, while in other cases, they can stick around for 10 or 20 minutes. The painful sensation usually impacts the calf muscle at the back of the leg and below the knee, but is also known to impact the muscles in the thighs and feet. Although the cramp itself only lasts a few minutes, it can leave the area feeling sore and tender for days.

According to the NHS in the United Kingdom, muscle cramps can occur for a range of different reasons. For Baby Boomers, it is unfortunately more common and is a side effect of the ageing process. If the muscles or legs become too overworked, this can also cause them to become strained and start constricting.

In some cases, medication people take can cause leg cramps. Drugs that lower high blood pressure and cholesterol are known to cause muscle spasms, usually because they impact the body’s natural mineral balance.

Some health conditions are also known to cause muscle cramps. These can include Atherosclerosis, which sees fatty plaques form in the arteries and supply less blood flow to the muscles, and Sciatica, where pressure on the nerves in the lower back can cause pain in the buttocks and legs.

For others, muscles can contract when they’re experiencing liver problems or when they become dehydrated. Then there are cases where no known cause can be determined.

Thankfully, there are various things people can do to ease the pain associated with a muscle cramp. According to Better Health Victoria, stretching and massages of the muscle are one of the most effective measures to relieving pain.

When you do this, you’re actually lengthening the muscle that is experiencing cramping. If you’re ever unsure of what techniques to use, a physiotherapist will usually be able to provide you with advice, however, gentle massages usually do the trick.

If you’re experiencing excruciating pain, applying an icepack to the impacted area can often help the muscle relax. Simply apply the pack to the muscle and leave for several minutes until the pain begins to subside.

You may also want to apply heat to the area, with many people opting to take a relaxing hot bath or apply a heat pack or hot towel to the muscle to relieve pain.

In cases where the cramp is persistant and painful, you may require medication to help ease the pain. In these cases, it’s best to talk to a GP or health professional, as there may be another health problem that is causing you to experience pain.

There are also things you can do each day to try and prevent a cramp from happening in the first place. While excessive workouts can cause cramps, general physical fitness and exercise can stimulate the muscle to ensure they’re being stretched. Similarly, stretching regularly can also assist.

If you know you’re going to be getting physical, it’s important to remain hydrated. Keep your fluids up by drinking water regularly throughout the day, while also ensuring you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as part of your diet.

Some studies have also found that wearing shoes that fit correctly is also important and that high heels can actually add strain to the leg muscles and cause them to cramp.

What do you think? Do you ever experience cramps? How do you stop them?

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