Leg cramps cause excruciating pain that is just too terrible to ignore. They are a result of sudden and uncontrolled contractions of the leg muscles. Charley horse is another term for this condition. The muscles that contract frequently in this manner are those which cross a joint, such as the calf (crosses the ankle and knee), the hamstring (crosses the knee and hip), and the quadriceps (also crosses the knee and hip). Generally, a cramp lasts for around a minute. It may also take a few minutes till the contraction subsides. Some people suffer from nocturnal cramps in the legs, leading to sleepless nights.
Leg cramps usually plague children (between 10-18 years of age), older people (above 60 years of age), and pregnant women. The causes are not very clear. However, there are certain conditions that increase the chances of their frequency. If you suffer from muscle fatigue, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance, you are at a greater risk of getting them. Sudden or heavy exercising, a bulky but not necessarily obese body, also increase the chances. Certain drugs, like prednisone and statins, could also be the cause.
If you suffer frequently from leg cramps, you should consult a doctor. The doctor generally conducts a blood test to screen out the levels of electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, calcium, etc., in the body. Electrolyte imbalance is one of the major causes. In case all is fine, the doctor will further look through your medical history and daily routine. There are effective medical and natural treatments for leg cramps. Still, it is ideal to take some precautionary measures. The most important among them are as follows.
Measures for Prevention
Keep Yourself Hydrated: Avoid getting dehydrated, and drink plenty of water, at least 8-10 glasses daily. Make sure that you drink a glass of water before sleeping at night. It will be very helpful if you drink water before, during, and after workouts, to compensate for any loss of fluids.
Maintain Electrolyte Balance: In case of electrolyte imbalance, try to increase the intake of potassium and other electrolytes. There are certain foods that can replenish their levels. Apple cider vinegar and bananas are rich in potassium. Take 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with a glass of water, and eat minimum three bananas in a day. You can find calcium in dairy products, fish such as salmon and sardines, green leafy vegetables, and nuts. This will be highly useful for cramp-free legs.
Wear Comfortable Shoes: Many people suffer from leg cramps while and after running. Hence, wear good, comfortable athletic shoes to prevent this. Also, avoid wearing high-heeled, tight shoes in daily life.
Follow a Proper Exercise Program: Stretching is a must before any vigorous workout. An ideal exercise plan is spread over three stages. It starts with a warm up (for about 5-10 minutes), followed by a strenuous workout (approximately 20 minutes), and ends with a cooling-down period (again about 5-10 minutes). This prevents any sudden exertion on the muscles. Do not exercise vigorously before bedtime. It often results in nocturnal cramping in the leg muscles.
Be Steady in Workouts: Avoid sudden increases in your workout program. Try to reach the recommended exercise counts gradually. Stick to a particular exercise intensity for at least a period of five days. Increase the time-length and intensity level steadily.
Follow Your Instinct For Relief: You must have noticed that in the occurrence of cramps, you instinctively rub and massage the area. This is actually very helpful in getting relief from the discomfort. Follow your instinct, and massage the cramped area gently. Taking a hot shower before bedtime, is also great to relieve as well as avoid nocturnal cramping.
Move Body Parts Frequently: Leg cramps are common in a majority of pregnant women. There are certain things which you can try to them in that phase. Stretch your legs 5-6 times in a day. Do it once before bedtime. Increase blood circulation by rotating the ankles, and wiggling the toes. You should also avoid standing for long periods of time, and keeping your legs in a crossed position.
If these seemingly harmless leg cramps are accompanied by swelling and pain, you should see a medical practitioner for necessary intervention.
Disclaimer: This HolisticZine article is solely for informative purpose and not intended to replace the advice of medical experts.