Learning the Details of Leg Cramps


A leg cramp is a pain which comes from a muscle in the leg. It is the result of a muscle spasm which is when a muscle contracts too hard. It generally occurs in one of the calf muscles, below and behind a knee. Sometimes, the small muscles of the feet are affected. Typically, a cramp pain lasts a few minutes. In some cases it lasts just seconds, however in some cases it can last up to 10 minutes. Also, the degree of the pain varies and the muscle may remain tender for up to 24 hours after a leg cramp. It has been observed that generally leg cramps occur when one is resting - most commonly at night when in bed which is why they might be called night cramps.
The causes of leg cramps -
Unknown cause (idiopathic leg cramps)
In most cases, the cause of the cramp remains unknown. One theory is that cramps occur when a muscle which is already in a shortened position is stimulated to contract. As the muscle is already shortened, its further contraction may cause the muscle to go into spasm. This commonly happens at night in bed as in the natural position in which one lies, is with the knees slightly bent (flexed), and with feet pointing slightly downwards. In this position the calf muscle is relatively shortened and thus prone to cramps. This theory also explains why stretching exercises may cure the problem.
Secondary causes
In some cases, the cramps can result as a symptom of another condition or problem. For example, some medicines can cause cramps as a side-effect, or make cramps occur more often. These would include diuretics ('water tablets'), nifedipine, cimetidine, salbutamol, terbutaline, lithium, clofibrate, penicillamine, morphine (withdrawal), phenothiazines, and nicotinic acid.
Even over-exertion of muscles, dehydration, conditions that cause alterations in the balance of salts in the bloodstream like high or low sodium or potassium level can also cause cramps. It has been observed that some people who have renal (kidney) dialysis get leg cramps. This is not all even excessive alcohol can sometimes be the reason for cramps.

Cause of leg cramps
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Muscle Cramps
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