Cramp is a common, mostly harmless, condition in which sharp “clamping like” pains occur in the muscle. Cramps in the leg are most frequently in the calf muscle but can also occur in the feet, buttock and thighs. It can last up to 10 minutes and there may be pain and tenderness in the leg for several hours afterwards.
What causes cramp?
Cramp is usually a reaction to a build up of lactic acid and a lack of oxygenated blood reaching your muscles- of which there are many causes which can include:
Dehydration– the ‘electrolyte depletion theory’ is that by not having enough water and salts in your system muscles will become fatigued and then begin to cramp.
Exercising for too long– this is more applicable to high intensity exercise such as running. The longer the exercise lasts the tighter the muscles in your leg become which can result in cramp.
Your age– the frequency of cramp increases as you age partly due to the degenerative changes that develop both in your muscle and nerves over time. Muscles become smaller (a process known as atrophy) and develop scar tissue. These changes can result in less efficient oxygenated blood flow to muscles which in turn causes cramping.
Pregnancy- cramp is more common in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. This may be due to changes in blood circulation and your legs having to work harder from carrying the extra weight.
Certain medications– some medications such as statins have side effects that include muscle cramps.
Referred pain– sometimes people can mistake leg-cramps for what could actually be referred pain from your lower back hip or knee.
Hydration– drink plenty of water- at least 4 pints a day!
Stretch– especially your calf muscles. They help pump blood through your whole leg.
Walking and gentle exercise– if you sit at your desk all day your muscles will tighten up.
Discussion with GP regarding medications– ask your doctor whether or not any of your medication could be causing your cramps. Only stop taking medication if told to do so by your GP
Osteopathic treatment– can help to gently stretch out the muscles in your leg and could potentially offer a more long term solution to recurring muscle cramps.