What Causes Cramps in Legs?

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Leg cramps, which usually affect the calf muscles, are caused by various conditions, including dehydration, strenuous exercise, muscle trauma and positioning the leg in the same posture for long periods, according to Everyday Health. Medications, cold temperature, and insufficient potassium or calcium levels in the body are also possible causes.

Leg cramps are often painful, causing an individual to awaken at night, notes Everyday Health. They can also occur while running, cycling or doing other exercises, as vigorous physical activities can add strain on the leg muscles. Some of the medications that can lead to leg cramps include steroids, diuretics and birth control pills. Severe conditions, such as kidney disease, can also cause muscle cramps.

Mayo Clinic’s website describes some of the more serious causes of leg cramps. Inadequate blood supply caused by arteriosclerosis, which is a narrowing of arteries delivering blood to the extremities, can be a very painful cause of leg cramps. Another cause is nerve compression, which is a result of pressure on the nerves. Nerve compression within the lumbar region can result in cramping in the legs, according to WebMD. Additionally, depletion of minerals such as potassium and magnesium within the body may cause leg cramps.

To relieve leg cramps, an individual should move around, shake the leg or rub the muscles, suggests Everyday Health. People with chronic leg cramps are advised to apply cold compresses to numb the pain and alleviate soreness. It also helps to start a regular exercise regimen to strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility.

Doctors recommend avoiding dehydration by drinking lots of fluids and maintaining a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, states Everyday Health. Analgesic balm and patches are over-the-counter treatments that can help relieve leg cramps. Anyone who experiences leg cramps within 5 to 10 minutes several times every week should talk to a physician for the most appropriate treatment.