A muscle cramp generally happens when one of your muscles tightens up and shortens thus causing a severe pain. It can be a single muscle or a group of muscles. This is usually due to overexertion and dehydration.
Usually, the afflicted are the elderly, and many times pregnant women. Leg cramps can be very painful. Once they subside, you are often left with tenderness of the area. Calf muscles cramp frequently and so are considered normal. Chronic cramping in other leg muscles should be seen by a physician.
The actual causes or triggers of leg cramps are unknown. Lending to the triggers are dehydration, overexertion, and occasionally, extended times of no physical activity.
Whether or not you will seek treatment for your leg cramps will depend on the severity of the affliction. If your pain is mild, passes quickly and does not affect your quality of life, you may be able to treat them with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If the pain is more aggressive and there are quality of life issues such as sleep deprivation, you may need to seek the advice of your doctor.
Many times, leg cramps occur at night. These are known as Nocturnal Leg Cramps. They happen at night suddenly and involuntarily, usually waking the sleeper with a shriek. Sometimes the foot muscles also contract. This may last 20 – 30 seconds or longer. These cramps happen to all ages, but usually middle and older age groups.
Leg cramps are not the same as Restless Leg Syndrome. RLS can usually be relieved by movement and has no cramping or pain.
Since the actual causes are unknown, is there anything to be done to prevent leg cramps? Yes, there are apparent preventative measures that can be taken to ward off cramps: Drink plenty of liquids. Eight glasses of water a day will keep you hydrated and may prevent leg cramps; stretch your muscles regularly; exercise; and wear properly fitting and comfortable shoes.
If cramping still occurs try wiggling your leg and elevating it; stretch your calf muscles, take a hot bath; or apply ice to the cramp.
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