Tightening and shortening of body muscles causes muscle cramps; also known as 'charley-horse'. These cramps are sudden, painful and caused due to the involuntary contraction of the leg muscles. The affected person, sometimes, can also feel a hard lump of muscle beneath the skin. Apart from affecting the calf muscle, leg cramps also affect the foot and upper leg. The below section is on the various causes, and treatment methods for this ailment.
# The most probable cause of this condition is considered to be too much exercising or overexertion during day time activity. This is because muscles, when subjected to too much physical activity, can suffer from muscle fatigue and sudden cramps when you are trying to relax. Standing on hard surfaces for long hours, sitting in the same place or sleeping in an improper posture may also have the same repercussion. People who have a sedentary lifestyle are the most likely candidates to suffer from leg cramps when they try to indulge in sudden vigorous activities.
# A diet that is deficient in certain nutrients such as potassium, calcium and other minerals also increases the risk of developing muscle cramps. For example, patients who are in a habit of diuretics (any substance that tends to increase the flow of urine, which causes the body to get rid of excess water) tend to have lower potassium thus, are more prone to leg cramps. Dehydration and lack of fluids in the body may also be some of the offenders
# Certain diseases of the muscles and nerves have been held responsible for causing severe leg cramps. One of the most common examples of such diseases is Parkinson's disease. Here, the patient's nervous system deteriorates with time, and movement gets affected from bad to worse. Diabetes, peripheral artery disease and pregnancy, also contribute to the development of leg cramps. There are certain medical disorders that hinder the process of the supply of enough oxygen to the muscles and cause muscle fatigue and cramps. Spinal stenosis may also be responsible for causing the same. In this condition, the patient suffers narrowing of his/her spine; this could occur in one or multiple areas of the spine.
# Having flat feet may also give you leg cramps. This is because this condition may make you walk differently from others who do not have flat feet. The walking may strain the muscles of the lower leg and this may lead to cramping.
# Asthma medications, calcium channel blockers, birth control pills, diuretics, niacin, statins, steroids, and certain anti-psychotic drugs may be responsible for causing cramps. Administration of such medicines may deplete fluids, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium in the body, and leg cramps may be one of its repercussions.
# People with Addison's disease, alcoholism, hypothyroidism, or chronic kidney failure also commonly report of experiencing frequent leg cramps, and so do diabetics.
Hot or cold compresses, massage, stretching of the cramped leg, warm baths, etc., are some methods that can provide relief from pain and discomfort. However, if the pain is unbearable and persists for a long time, then it is better to consult a doctor. If the leg cramp is recurring by nature, then it is a matter of concern and should be attended by a qualified physician. Leg cramps is not a disease but a symptom of some underlying medical condition you may be unaware of. So assuming that the cramp will subside by itself in a couple of days and delaying your visit to the doctor, may invite trouble.
Preventing leg cramps is important, and this can be done by keeping its causes at bay. Keep your body hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, especially water. Inculcate stretching exercises and wear shoes that have proper support. When participating in any vigorous activity, do not forget to warm up and stretch before and after the activity. Your doctor may also recommend some changes in your diet to compensate for the deficiencies which might be causing the problem.