A leg cramp is a condition where there is an involuntary contraction of the leg muscle which does not relax causing a lot of leg pain. Leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles is a common condition affecting many people at some point in their lives. Leg cramp or cramping of leg muscle may be a side effect of some medications. The duration of the leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles can be anywhere from a few seconds to few minutes and sometimes longer. Leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles can affect a single muscle or multiple muscles of the legs. The causes of these cramps[¹] in the leg muscles are many. Leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles can be relieved by stretching the affected leg muscle. Individuals who are involved in vigorous training such as athletes are commonly affected by leg cramps. Calf muscles are more commonly affected with leg cramps. They comprise of the gastrocnemius muscle and soleus muscle.
Causes of Leg Cramps or Cramping of Leg Muscles
- Dehydration or inadequate intake of water can be a cause for leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles.
- Leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles can also be caused due to depleted levels of potassium and sodium (salt).
- Depleted carbohydrate levels.
- Tense or stiff muscles can also cause leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles.
- Vitamin deficiencies may also cause cramping in legs.
- Poor blood circulation also causes[²] muscle cramps in legs.
- Shifts in the body fluids such as seen in cirrhosis or during dialysis for kidney failure may also cause leg cramps or cramping in legs.
- Vigorous physical activities and muscle fatigue may cause leg muscle to cramp.
- Rest cramps are commonly seen in older individuals and they often occur at night.
- Injury or trauma such as bone fracture can cause leg muscle spasm and leg cramps. It acts as a defense mechanism to prevent further injury.
Treatment of Leg Cramps or Cramping of Leg Muscles[³]
A severe leg cramp or cramping of leg muscles may cause muscle damage causing the fibers of the muscle to tear because of the force of the muscle contraction. So it is essential to seek treatment and to try and prevent leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles with rehabilitation program and sports massage treatment in order to restore the leg muscle to its original condition.
- In order to treat leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles, the affected leg muscle should be stretched and the stretch should be held for as long as is required.
- Gently massaging the affected leg muscles promotes blood flow and relieves leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles.
- Sports massage is also helpful in stopping leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles.
- Stretching and strengthening helps in preventing further episodes of leg cramps.
- Patient should have adequate salt intake in diet, although this may be an unlikely cause as people consume a lot of salt in processed foods.
- Muscle relaxant medications such as cyclobenzaprine can be used for a short period to relax the leg muscles and relieve leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles.
Prevention of Leg Cramps or Cramping of Leg Muscles
- Stretching and proper warm up before and after exercise is the best way to prevent leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles.
- One can prevent leg cramps or cramping of the leg muscle with adequate hydration with replacement of electrolytes in case of exertion causing perspiration.
- Strenuous activities leading to muscle fatigue should be avoided, especially during summer season as that tends to cause leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles.
- Calcium and magnesium supplements should be taken to avoid leg cramps or any muscle cramps during pregnancy.
- Adequate supports, foot wear, body positions, activity breaks etc. should be taken by an athlete in order to prevent leg cramps or cramping of the leg muscles.
- The leg muscles should be stretched before going to sleep to prevent leg cramps or night/ rest cramps.
- Patient should have an adequate vitamin E intake.
Benefits of a Sports Massage in Stopping Leg Cramps or Cramping of Leg Muscles
Sports Massage[⁴] is very helpful in relieving and preventing leg cramps or cramping of leg muscles by stimulating blood circulation and stretching the leg muscle. During a leg cramp or cramping of leg muscles, the leg muscle goes into a spasm which forces the blood out from the muscle. If the spasm of the leg muscle is severe, it causes damage to the muscle. Sports massage helps in releasing leg muscle tension and stimulating the blood flow thereby relieving leg cramps. Additionally, Sports Massage helps with stretching the leg muscle especially transverse or sideway stretching. Massage should never be done during the acute stage of an injury (usually initial 24 to 48 hours), as the massage will increase the bleeding in the injured part instead of reducing it.
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