A sudden, painful and involuntary contraction of a muscle or even a few fibers of a muscle, is known as 'spasm' and when a forceful spasm sustains for a few seconds or minutes, it is called 'cramp'.
They usually develop while falling asleep or waking up. The hardened muscle can be felt, and if it does not release on its own, you have to help relax the muscle by manual stretching or massage.
- Performing a New Activity: A sudden change in daily activity may lead to leg cramps. If you suddenly start playing tennis, you suddenly decide to climb a hill, or if you opt for swimming for which your muscles are not ready, then it may lead to cramps in calf while sleeping or while working.
Sudden increase in the intensity of the workout increases the stress level which can also cause this condition.
- Altered Neuromuscular Control: These cramps can be a result of disturbed muscle coordination and control. High or low, sodium or potassium levels result in the altered salt levels in the blood stream, which may lead to these contractions.
- Pregnancy: Changes in the hormone levels, and increased stress on the muscles of the legs and feet during pregnancy may cause this condition, especially in calves. Vitamin deficiency during pregnancy may also contribute to this condition.
- Poor conditioning: Lack of healthy diet, and proper and regular exercise may also lead to these contractions. Lots of care has to be taken and muscles are to be trained properly keeping in mind the goal of muscle building, right from the childhood.
- Muscle fatigue: Too much of exercise or over-training by athletes, or excessive strain on the muscles by performing repetitive activities may lead to muscle fatigue, resulting in muscle cramps.
- Dehydration: Insufficient supply of water to the cells of the body can result in various complications and cramps as a result of dehydration.
- Environmental Toxins: Excessive exposure to environmental toxins (e.g. lead poisoning) is also an important cause of these contractions.
- Fatigue: Fatigue due to diseases like cancer, liver cirrhosis, diabetes, renal failure, Parkinson's disease, etc. may cause abnormal contractions in calf muscles.
- Peripheral Vascular Disease: Poor circulation of blood and narrowed leg arteries are the symptoms of peripheral vascular disease, which may cause cramps in the calves.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: Obesity or weakened muscles may also cause this condition. People who have a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to get affected from this.
- Foot Problems: Persistent foot problems like achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis are the causes of leg pain, which may eventually lead to cramping.
- Hyper Flexible Joints: Those who have hyper flexible joints, generally have to face the problem of abnormal contractions in the calves.
- Excessive Exercise: A person experiences higher rate of breathing while performing cardiovascular exercises. If he has low blood calcium levels, he may develop this condition.
- Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol abuse is also known to lead to this condition.
- Shoes: Ill-fitting shoes may also lead to this condition in some cases.
- Drugs and Medication: Cramping can be noticed as a side effect of certain drugs and medicines.
- Injuries: Injuries to leg or foot muscles may also lead to this condition in certain cases.
- Flat Feet: It is observed that flat feet causes foot pain, and can lead to frequent cramping.
As prevention is better than cure, with regular exercises (including stretching exercises of muscles for warming up and cooling down exercises after the workouts) you can keep yourself fit and active, and reduce the chances of development of this condition.
You should avoid stress on legs and feet, if you want to avoid the cramps in calf muscles. Following simple remedies may also help reduce pain in the calf.
- When you experience a cramp, slowly pull the foot away from the cramping position. Hold it softly with your hands, till the muscles relax. Then massage it for 5 to 10 minutes, to reduce the pain. You may try to stretch it gently to reduce the pain.
- Compressing the affected area around the calf muscle with an elastic bandage can provide the necessary relief.
- Dehydration may be avoided by drinking lots of water and other healthy liquids like fruit juices, milk, etc. This may reduce the chances of cramps.
- Over-the-counter medicines or specific pain killers may be taken under the guidance of a physician to get relief.
- Massage with an oil or ointment definitely helps reduce the pain and muscle fatigue.
- A balanced diet helps you avoid the nutritional deficiencies, which may lead to this condition.
- You may apply ice to the calf area which will numb the muscles and reduce the pain.
- Apart from the aforementioned remedies, sufficient rest to the affected area is necessary to relieve the pain.
The risk of developing cramps increases with age, but with the help of diet, exercise, and proper precautionary measures, you may easily avoid this condition.