Leg cramps occur when muscles in the leg involuntarily contract, becoming tight and painful. While leg cramps usually occur in the calf muscle, they can affect any part of the leg, including the feet and thighs.
Although they are generally harmless, leg cramps can be extremely painful, lasting anywhere from a few seconds up to 10 minutes. After the cramping has passed, the leg may continue to be painful and tender for several hours.
While leg cramps can occur at any time of the day, three out of four cases occur at night during sleep*. If you suffer from leg cramps in bed, calf cramps or foot cramps, there are ways to prevent and treat them. To do that though, it’s important to work out where the problem stems from.
Finding out what causes cramps – whether that’s cramps in legs, cramps in calves or cramps in feet – can make it easier to treat them, and sometimes, prevent them altogether. In many cases, leg cramps can occur for no apparent reason. These are known as idiopathic leg cramps.
Leg cramps can also occur as a symptom or complication of a health condition. These are known as secondary leg cramps. Leg cramps during pregnancy are common, but muscle cramps can also be caused by certain types of medication, exercise and liver disease.
When it comes to idiopathic leg cramps, there are a number of theories regarding possible causes. These can include:
Looking more closely at secondary leg cramps caused by an underlying condition or another identifiable cause, these can be linked to the following:
Having looked at what causes leg cramps and possible muscle cramps causes, it’s now time to investigate how to stop cramps, with a focus on how to prevent them occurring.
If leg cramps are affecting your quality of life, seriously interfering with your sleep so that you are unable to function properly the following day, a trip to the GP may be required.
If your cramps last longer than 10 minutes and do not improve, despite walking around and stretching, or if cramps develop after you come into contact with toxic substances, you should seek immediate medical help.