Leg cramps

November 12, 2012

Leg cramps

Leg cramps no matter when they occur, are usually very painful, they are the result of uncontrollable muscle contractions and may appear unexpectedly when at rest, when sleeping, or after exercise – three out of four cramping cases occur during sleep. Generally speaking this type of cramping occurs below the knee, in the calf; however, it can affect any part of the leg.

Leg cramps are usually easy to deal with – disappearing after stretching of the muscle or massage of the affected area and do not generally cause any long term problems. Although leg cramps are not usually indicative of any other underlying health problem anyone who suffers persistent cramps that do not improve with treatment should seek the advice of their medical professional.

Dehydration

Dehydration is a common cause of leg cramps and this may be exacerbated by certain medications such as diuretics or statins intended to reduce cholesterol levels.

Whilst loss of body fluid is a known contributor to the occurrence of leg cramps it is also recognised that depletion of potassium or sodium electrolytes as a result of dehydration may also be a factor in the causes of cramping.

When taking part in exercise or physical activity it is essential to maintain fluid levels by consuming plenty of water or sports drinks which contain electrolytes.

Reducing the intake of caffeine and/or alcohol may also be beneficial in reducing cramping as these drinks both have a diuretic effect and may cause an increase in fluid excretion.

Calcium and magnesium

Calcium and magnesium levels may both be affected by dehydration and in turn may cause leg cramps to develop. Eating foods rich in both calcium and magnesium or taking supplements will help to improve and maintain the levels of these essential nutrients. Calcium rich foods include -

  • Dairy products including cheese, yogurt and milk
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Certain fortified foods such as orange juice

Magnesium rich foods include -

  • Wheat germ
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Tofu

Potassium

Potassium maintains fluid balance in bodily tissues and therefore is involved with fluid balance of the whole body. Low potassium levels have been implicated in the development of leg cramps and may be caused by excess sweating. Too much potassium should be avoided due to the adverse effects it may have on the cardiac and nervous system – this means taking a supplement should be avoided and instead adequate potassium should be gleaned from eating a healthy well balanced diet. Potassium rich foods include the following -

  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Legumes and pulses
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

Supplements

Following a healthy well balanced diet and staying well hydrated is essential for maintaining good health – including the avoidance of leg cramps. However, for sufferers of persistent cramping some dieticians recommend taking a vitamin B complex supplement; other dieticians may recommend supplements of Vitamins A and/or E – however the efficacy of these supplements is not backed by any clinical research and the supposed benefits are based on anecdotal reports.

Before taking any supplements your medical practitioner should be consulted since taking too many may be dangerous to health.

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