What are Leg Cramps?

Leg cramps may be exercise induced.
Runners may experience leg cramps.
Stay hydrated to reduce cramps.
Certain medications can lead to a higher occurrence of leg cramps.
Intravenous fluids and medications may be given to treat or prevent dehydration.
A person with defined leg muscles.
Leg cramps often occur in the calf or thigh and cause intense pain.
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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2014
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Leg cramps are contractions of the leg muscle often causing a substantial amount of pain. There can be a number of different causes that are responsible for leg cramps. In many cases, they may be able to be prevented. However, some may be genetically prone to leg cramps and there may be little that can be done to stop them.

There are two prime times that leg cramps are more likely to happen. They can happen at night, while an individual is sleeping, causing them to wake up in excruciating pain. They can also happen during times of strenuous physical exercise. In the case of cramps during exercise, they may not be as severe, simply because steps can be taken if the person is awake to lessen the severity.

Though the exact cause of night leg cramps are not known, there are times when they seem to happen more often. Muscle overexertion the previous day, dehydration, pregnancy diabetes, certain medications and even the use of alcohol can mean a greater incidence of leg cramps. Night leg cramps often come upon an individual without warning, though some may be aware of some tightness in the muscle before the cramp begins in earnest.


Running leg cramps and swimming leg cramps often occur among athletes, especially those who have been engaged in such exercise for an extended period of time. In these situations, dehydration is often blamed as the main cause of the cramps. Athletes may be treated for the cramps by either taking in more fluids or perhaps even receiving intravenous fluids if the dehydration is severe enough.

Leg cramps are very easy to identify. Often occurring in the calf or the thigh, they cause intense pain usually lasting less than a minute, though it is possible for them to last several minutes. Putting pressure on the leg, either by standing on it, or pushing it against a solid object, may help alleviate the pressure. Stretching it can also lessen the severity.

Preventing leg cramps involves controlling the situations that are most likely to cause them. Staying hydrated tops is perhaps the most often recommended way to prevent a leg cramp. Stretching, getting enough potassium, and gradually increasing an exercise load are other common ways to prevent leg cramps.

In some cases, if night leg cramps are persistent, seeing a doctor is recommended. If a cause for the leg cramps can be determined, the doctor may be able to prescribe a medicine, lifestyle change or supplement that can help reduce the frequency and severity of the cramps. Though this may not prevent all cramps, any relief for those who suffer frequent leg cramps is welcomed.


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