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What Causes Leg Cramps? How Can You Deal With Them?

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Feb 13, 2023

    What Causes Leg Cramps? How Can You Deal With Them?

    Leg cramps, which cause the muscles in your leg to suddenly tighten and hurt, are a common and typically harmless condition. Although it can affect any area of your leg, including your feet and thighs, it typically affects the calf muscles. You may experience discomfort and tenderness in your leg for several hours following the cramps. Many occurrences happen while people are sleeping. If you have experienced it before, you might be wondering: what causes leg cramps? 

    What Causes Leg Cramps?

    Leg cramps can be caused by a variety of factors, but it’s also crucial to remember that they frequently have no known cause.

    Since they frequently occur at night when our legs are slightly bent and our feet are pointed downward, some have hypothesized that constriction causes a spasm.

    There are two main types of leg cramps depending on its cause: 

    • Idiopathic leg cramps that appear for no obvious reason.
    • Secondary leg cramps are those that appear as a sign or complication of a medical illness. 

    Possible causes of secondary leg cramps include: 

    + Pregnancy

    + Exercise

    + Some prescription drugs, such statins (medicines that help lower cholesterol levels)

    + Liver illness

    In addition, medications can contribute to leg cramps, such as: 

    + Contraceptive tablets

    + Diuretics

    + Naproxen

    + Albuterol

    Can Lifestyle Factors Contribute To Having Leg Cramps? 

    What causes leg cramps? Well, there are certain activities that might make you more prone to leg cramps. These include exercises that rely heavily on the leg muscles, such as: 

    + Leisurely running

    + Lifting weights for the legs

    + Games like basketball or soccer that need a lot of running

    According to some specialists, muscle exhaustion is the primary cause of leg cramps. And the dangers increase if you are dehydrated or the weather is hot.

    How Cramping In The Legs Feel

    Now that we know more about what causes leg cramps, let’s discuss how it usually feels. 

    When you have a cramp, the muscles in your leg suddenly contract (shorten). This is referred to as a spasm. And you are unable to control the spastic muscle during this period. After a while, you will regain control of muscle again after the cramp when it subside. A muscle cramp can last for a few seconds to ten minutes per episode.

    It’s worth noting that cramps can cause a sore knot in your leg muscle while it’s immobile. They can occur in the thighs, feet, or calf muscles, but they most frequently occur in the calf.

    Leg cramps often only last a few seconds before the muscle relaxes and the pain subsides. However, like mentioned above, it can last for minutes, too! When this happens, the spastic muscles may continue to feel painful for hours. This is true after the cramp has already ended.

    How To Find Relief

    Besides learning what causes leg cramps, you are perhaps also expecting to learn and find its relief.  

    If possible, try to walk, jiggle your leg, massage the area, or stretch the spastic muscle. 

    Stretching may also assist in making you feel better. To stretch your calf muscles, stand on a step with your heels dangling over the edge. Slowly lower your heels until they are level with the step. Hold for a brief period of time, then raise them back up to the starting position. Repeat as necessary.

    However, moving your muscles and stretching may not be doable if the pain is unbearable. 

    In any case, a warm compress seems to ease the cramps. Hence, consider using a heating pad or taking a warm bath.  

    Typically, medication is only required in the most severe cases where cramping does not improve with exercise. Treating the underlying cause of secondary leg cramps may help you feel better. If you’re pregnant, leg cramps should go away once the baby is born during pregnancy.

    Avoiding Leg Cramps: Is It Possible?

    Stretching your lower leg muscles on a daily basis can help avoid or lessen leg cramps if you suffer from them frequently.

    Stretching your calves each night before bed might be helpful for you as well. 

    The following night-time advice may also help: 

    + Ensure that your toes are pointed upwards if you are lying on your back. Your feet may stay in the proper position if you place a pillow on its side at the foot of your bed and lean your feet against it.

    + Hang your feet over the end of the bed if you are lying on your front; this will keep your feet relaxed and prevent the muscles in your calves from tensing and constricting.

    + Keep blankets and sheets loose.

    When To Go To The Doctor

    If leg cramps are severe or occur regularly, seek medical attention. Leg cramps are typically not a cause for concern, but they occasionally can suggest an underlying problem. If the patient is taking medications that can induce cramping, the doctor may modify the prescription or adjust the dose in an effort to find an underlying reason.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jezreel Esguerra, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Feb 13, 2023

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