Don't Let Leg Cramps Cramp Your Style!

Plumeria (above) and Gardenia's are in bloom in Lakes Park (Fort Myers), right now, for you to enjoy! They're smelling SOOO good!  Photo Courtesy of Charly Caldwell II.

Most people have suffered the excruciatingly painful experience of a leg cramp at least once in their life, often in bed at night.

A cramp is a painful spasm or contraction (shortening) of the muscle, usually in the calf, but sometimes in the foot or thigh muscles.

Cramps are involuntary – you have no control over the muscle spasm.

Fortunately, cramps usually only last a few seconds or minutes and usually get better when you stretch the affected muscles.

Walking around often helps relieve foot cramps.

After a cramp, the affected muscles may be sore and tender for a few hours.

Sometimes there is even mild swelling afterwards. Although they are extremely painful, ordinary leg cramps are more of a nuisance than anything else and are not usually a sign of anything seriously wrong.

Leg cramps (especially night cramps) seem to affect people more as they age.

However, pregnant women are also prone to cramps, especially in the second and third trimesters.

Pregnancy-related cramps also usually happen at night and affect the calf muscles.

Most leg cramps have no known cause.

These cramps are thought to be due to spontaneous over activity of the nerves that supply certain muscles.

Cramps may be brought on by certain activities.

Doing more exercise than usual, or prolonged or strenuous exercise, particularly in the heat, can bring on leg cramps.

Dehydration is also a major contributor.

Some medications (such as those used to treat high blood pressure) can also increase the likelihood of having leg cramps.

Statins (cholesterol-lowering medicine) are known to be associated with side effects such as muscle soreness and weakness in some people, and may also contribute.

Cramps are usually relieved by stretching the affected muscle.

When the calf is affected, this can be done by pulling your toes upwards towards your nose while massaging the muscle at the same time. When your feet are cramping, walking around can help alleviate the cramp.

Calf-stretching exercises performed several times each day and before bed may help prevent night cramps for some people.

Sleeping with your legs bent and with loose covers or blankets on the bed may also help.

Athletes can help prevent exercise-related cramps by ensuring they drink enough fluids on a regular basis and consume sufficient carbohydrates in their daily diet.

Dynamic stretching before and static after exercise also helps.

If you’re experiencing frequent leg cramps or having cramps in other muscles, it may be time to see your doctor.

Also, see your doctor if:

  • you are having leg cramps that are regularly disturbing your sleep;
  • your cramps are not responding to simple self-care measures;
  • you have diabetes, kidney disease or liver disease;
  • you’re concerned that the cramps may be related to medicines you are taking;
  • you have associated muscle weakness; or
  • the cramps are affecting a leg that’s swollen, red or has skin changes.

Angie Ferguson is an exercise physiologist and Tony Robbins Results Coach from Fort Myers, Florida. She also is a Corrective Biomechanics Specialist, USA Triathlon Advanced Level 2 coach, USA Cycling coach, has a Specialty in Sports Nutrition certification, and a PhD in results! 


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