Have you ever been sleeping soundly or quietly relaxing on the couch after a hard day at work, only to be jolted awake by painful leg cramps? Well, you are not alone. Nearly everybody has experienced painful leg cramps at some point in his or her life. Just to make things more complicated, there may be different reasons why leg cramps can occur. For example, pregnant women seem to be prone to muscle cramps because the needs of the developing baby throw off their balance of body fluids. As well, people who exercise for long periods of time or very intensely will throw off their balance of water, sodium, potassium, lactic acid, and glucose, which affects muscle contractions and can result in painful muscle cramps. The most common reason I see leg cramps occurring in my patients is a simple lack of stretching the muscles.
If you have severe leg pain, you should get a professional opinion to determine if what you feel is just an ordinary muscle cramp. If you suspect the pain is caused by something else, like a blood clot, see your medical doctor or chiropractor immediately. They will examine the area and make the appropriate referral for more diagnostic testing if needed.This is a brief description of what a typical muscle cramp should feel like:
- they are usually in the leg or foot, and occur during rest or sleep.
- the cramps do not occur in both legs at the same time.
- the muscle often twitches for a few seconds before and after the cramp.
- intense pain comes on suddenly and is usually relieved by standing on or stretching the leg or foot.
- a knot in the muscle is often seen or felt.
- sometimes the affected muscle is tender for a few days.
For a select few people, it may not be possible to prevent these cramps completely. However, for the average person, the cramps will decrease in severity and how often they occur if the affected muscles were stretched regularly. It would also help if you drink enough water during and after exercising to replace what you lost as sweat.
Ordinary muscle cramps cause no permanent harm. However, if symptoms persist or you think that the pain is not just a muscle cramp, have it examined by a medical doctor or chiropractor right away.