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What you need to know about leg cramps

24 May 2023 · 5 mins read


Leg cramps are usually not a cause for alarm. However, there are some instances where you should seek medical attention.

Leg cramps are a common condition in which the leg muscles suddenly tighten and become painful. The calf muscles are usually affected; the foot and quadriceps (thighs) muscles may be affected too.

Leg cramps are typically harmless. The cramps may last anywhere between a few seconds and 10 minutes. Leg pain and tenderness may persist for several hours after the cramping subsides.

Causes of leg cramps

Leg cramps may occur for no apparent reason (idiopathic leg cramps) or due to a symptom or complication of a condition (secondary leg cramps). 

Causes of idiopathic leg cramps

  1. Overexertion of leg muscles (muscle fatigue).
  2. Abnormal nerve activity.
  3. Sudden restriction of blood supply to the affected muscle.

Causes of secondary leg cramps

  1. Decreased salt levels due to low levels of water in your body (dehydration).
  2. Extra weight during pregnancy may strain the leg muscles and causes leg cramps.
  3. Neurological conditions such as motor neuron disease.
  4. Excessive exercise.
  5. Certain medications such as diuretics and statins.

Time to seek immediate medical attention

Leg cramps are usually not a cause for alarm. However, there are some instances where you should seek medical attention.

  1. Severe pain: This could be a sign of a more serious condition, such as deep vein thrombosis or a blood clot.
  2. Swelling: This could be a sign of a blood clot or other serious conditions.
  3. Shortness of breath: If you experience leg cramps along with shortness of breath, it could be a sign of a blood clot in the lungs.
  4. History of blood clots: If you have a history of blood clots or other medical conditions that increase your risk of blood clots, it is crucial to seek medical attention if you experience leg cramps, especially if they are persistent or severe.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a medical emergency, head straight to one of the nearest Gleneagles Hospital Accident and Emergency (A&E) department for immediate medical attention.

Treatment for leg cramps

The root cause for leg cramps can be addressed if the reason behind the cramps is identified.

However, for primary idiopathic leg cramps (unidentified causes), a combination of exercise and painkillers is recommended.

  1. Stretching exercises: Straighten your leg and raise your foot while bending it at the ankle so that your toes point towards your shin. Spend a few minutes walking on your heels.
  2. Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen to relieve the pain or muscle relaxants.

Prevention of leg cramps

  1. Stretching: Before exercising, it is important to perform simple stretches such as a calf, hamstring, or quadriceps muscle stretch.
  2. Stay hydrated: Ensure you are well hydrated, especially if you are involved in intense exercises.

Book an appointment at Gleneagles Hospitals

Get in touch with us to book an appointment with an Orthopaedic specialist at Gleneagles Hospital today to know more about leg cramps treatment and prevention. The caring and multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals are available for consultation and to provide the best care.

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