What are leg cramps?

Leg cramps, sometimes called charley horses, are sudden and uncontrollable muscle contractions or spasms. They can occur with exercise or while sleeping and usually resolve just as quickly as they came. The pain from muscle cramps can be intense, but can often be relieved with gentle stretching and massage.

Leg cramps can be due to muscle overuse, injury, or fatigue and may be related to decreased blood supply or irritation of the nerves leading to a muscle. Dehydration and electrolyte depletion can increase the likelihood of developing muscle cramps. Certain medications, such as diuretics and statins, can cause dehydration and muscle injury, respectively. Dehydration can also occur with excessive sweating, which may occur when exercising in hot weather.

Leg cramps are common occurrences; just about everybody will experience them at some point. Leg cramps can be related to nearly any activity involving the legs, but can even occur at rest. They are common when beginning or resuming a seasonal sport, after prolonged or intense activity, and in older individuals.

Leg cramps may be accompanied by firmness of the involved muscle, visible changes in the muscle shape, or twitching of the muscle. Leg cramps may be brief or may last for several minutes. Leg cramps are usually benign, but they can occasionally be related to more serious medical conditions.

Seek prompt medical care if standard measures do not relieve leg cramps or if your leg cramps do not seem to be related to activity; if they are severe, recurrent, or are associated with other symptoms, such as swelling, color changes of the leg, weakness, or altered sensation; or if they increase with walking or climbing stairs and resolve with brief rest.

Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances that can contribute to muscle cramps can have serious complications if allowed to progress. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for decreased urine output, changes in level of consciousness, confusion, seizures, profuse sweating, irregular heart rhythms, or rapid heart rate.


SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with leg cramps?

Leg cramps may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Conditions that frequently affect your muscles may also involve other body systems.

Other symptoms that may occur along with leg cramps

Leg cramps may accompany other symptoms including:

CAUSES

What causes leg cramps?

Leg cramps can be due to muscle overuse, injury, or fatigue and may be related to decreased blood supply or irritation of the nerves leading to a muscle. Most of the time the genuine cause for a leg cramp is not identified. Most leg cramps resolve spontaneously without any treatment whatsoever. Dehydration and electrolyte depletion can increase the likelihood of developing muscle cramps. Medica... Read more about leg crampscauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles


What's Causing Your Symptoms?