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Leg Cramps

Man with leg injury | Healthier Me TodayLeg cramps are tightness and pain that occur suddenly in the legs. Also referred to as a “charley horse,” leg cramps can be very painful and uncomfortable. It is a common and harmless condition that can happen in any part of the leg. Most of the time, leg cramps affect the calf muscles. Leg cramps usually occur at night or when you are resting. An episode can last from a few seconds to as long as ten minutes.

Once the pain and tightness have passed, you may experience tenderness and pain for up to 24 hours afterward. Some leg cramps occur involuntarily for no reason. Others may ensue due to underlying medical conditions. Certain risk factors can leave you more prone to leg cramps. For example, age is one since the tendons that connect the muscles shorten as you get older. Some studies suggest that nerve dysfunction and muscle fatigue can also cause leg cramps.

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Types of Leg Cramps

Idiopathic: These are leg cramps that will occur for no particular reason. They will strike at night or when resting and pass after a few seconds or minutes.

Secondary: These types of leg cramps occur due to an underlying condition. Secondary leg cramps can occur due to exercise, pregnancy, and certain medications. Conditions like liver and kidney disease, Addison’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease may cause leg cramping too.

Symptoms of Leg Cramps

There is only one symptom of this ailment. During the episode, the affected muscles become painful and tight. This causes the toes and the feet to become stiff. Once the cramping has passed, the leg can feel painful and tender for several hours. This type of cramp can affect any part of the leg but thigh cramps tend to last the longest.

Diagnosis of Leg Cramps

These cramps resolve themselves typically and you normally don’t need to see a doctor. If they become too uncomfortable though, seeing a specialist would be advised. The doctor will ask about your symptoms, what the pain feels like, and when they started. They will also want to know when they happen and how long each episode lasts. Unfortunately, no blood or urine test can diagnose leg cramps. The doctor may, however, run other tests to rule out underlying medical conditions.

How to Treat Leg Cramps

Stretches: Without an underlying health issue, your cramp should get better with time. However, you can still do stretches to prevent them. Try walking on your toes to stretch the muscles and relieve cramping when it occurs. You could also attempt massaging the affected area when you feel a cramp. If the cramp is in your calf muscles, flex your foot to stretch the muscles.

Medication: Medication is prescribed in rare cases when exercising and stretching doesn’t help. If you have secondary cramps, treating the underlying condition will help. Cramps that occur when you are pregnant don’t need medication and will go away as soon as you give birth. Treating cramps that are a result of liver disease is usually difficult. In such a case, the doctor may try treating the condition by prescribing muscle relaxants.

How to Live With Leg Cramps

leg cramps - healthier me todayCramps in the leg are usually harmless and don’t need medical intervention. Knowing how to prevent them and what to do when they occur can make your life so much more comfortable.

  • Stretching regularly will not stop cramps, but may reduce their frequency
  • If your leg cramps are a result of an underlying medical condition, follow the treatment plan laid out by your doctor
  • If you experience a cramp, stop the activity you are doing immediately until the cramping passes
  • Stretch and massage the leg muscles from time to time to prevent muscle tightening
  • When you have a leg cramp, keep the leg stretched until the episode passes
  • Apply heat to the muscles that tighten
  • Find ways of relaxing the muscles, such as massages


  1. What exercises are best for relief? Stretching exercises that focus on the hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps can help.
  2. What are the warning signs? Unfortunately, leg cramps strike without warning. There is no way of knowing that you are getting a leg cramp until it happens.
  3. When should you go to the ER? If you experience a cramp for more than ten minutes, go to the emergency room. They usually strike for a few seconds to ten minutes at most. Anything longer than that may be due to another issue altogether.

Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!