Description, causes, prevention, treatment and medicines

What are leg cramps?

Most people have suffered the excruciatingly painful experience of leg cramp at least once in their life. Cramp is a painful spasm of the muscle, usually in the calf, but sometimes in the foot. The affected muscle feels very hard. Cramp may come on after taking increased exercise or, in people who are used to exercising regularly, after prolonged exercise particularly in the heat.

What causes cramps?

There are probably several different reasons why cramp occurs. Lack of salt is one well recognised cause. Poor circulation is another, and pregnant women are more prone to cramp. However, it is quite common for cramps to occur without a specific cause, especially as we get older.

Night cramps

One of the most distressing forms of cramp is nocturnal (night) cramps, which often waken the person, who is usually elderly. Simple measures such as massage, stretching before bed and sleeping with the legs bent may help. Quinine tablets are not recommended for treating muscle cramps because of the risk of very serious side effects such as bleeding.

Relieving cramps

When cramp occurs, it is best relieved by stretching the muscle. When the calf is affected, this can be done by pulling your toes towards you, massaging the muscle at the same time.

Although they are extremely painful, leg cramps are more of a nuisance than anything else. Fortunately they are not usually a sign of anything serious.

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