What Causes Leg Cramps and How to Get Rid of Them
What Causes Leg Cramps?
Are you plagued with intermittent leg cramps—and are you perplexed by what's causing them? It's important to get to the bottom of what is causing your leg pain; only then can you begin to treat and relieve the pain.
First, let's talk about a few factors that have been proven to cause leg pain and cramping. One of the more serious (but thankfully less common) health conditions that can cause leg cramps is deep vein thrombosis or DVT. DVT is a blood clot in the leg. This condition has specific symptoms such as pain, swelling, and redness in a given area of the leg. One might also feel a lump or clot. However, as a rule, a clot will not be palpable. Symptoms of DVT will be felt in one leg only. If your symptoms in any respect mimic the above symptoms, it would be prudent to seek a medical opinion immediately.
Another health problem that can cause leg cramps is an electrolyte imbalance. Think of the body as a machine, and think of electrolytes as different types of fuel that help keep the body working properly. When any given electrolyte is experiencing an imbalance, the human body will be warned with specific signs and symptoms. So, how can an electrolyte imbalance affect your leg muscles and ultimately cause cramps?
There are three major electrolytes that help keep muscles healthy and hydrated: calcium, potassium, and sodium. I am sure you may be at this point wondering, how can these electrolytes become depleted? Actually, electrolytes are easily depleted, and they are sneaky in doing so.
How Do Electrolytes Become Depleted?
Perhaps you don't take the time to eat breakfast, and then you head off for a day of shopping. Then to add to the problem you don't take time to stop and take in a bit of fluid. After you have been shopping for several hours you may experience dizziness. Maybe even feel some discomfort or muscle twitching along with pain in your lower legs. You might even feel slight heart palpitations. You may attribute these uneasy feelings to overexertion, perhaps too much walking. Well, this assumption might be partially correct. However, the combination of overexertion and lack of food and fluids has increased your body's need for electrolytes. The lack of food and fluids has depleted your electrolytes. This depletion has left you dehydrated. The state of dehydration has created symptoms, such as heart palpitations and leg cramps.The symptoms that are being experienced are true symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance which was a result of dehydration. Dehydration is just one of the culprits that can cause leg cramps. Now, a couple question. Along with some helpful suggestions.
How often do you have leg cramps?
1. I have leg cramps daily.
2. Once in a while.
3. My leg cramps never go away, I have constant pain.
If you answered 1 and 3 you need to see a doctor.
Do you consider yourself a person that keeps your body well hydrated?
1. Yes, I make sure to take in fluids throughout the day.
2. As a rule, I try to take in the proper amount of fluids daily, although I have busy days that I forget to drink ample fluids.
3. I am not a drinker, I know I don't take in the proper amount of fluids on a given day.
The second common factor that can cause leg cramps is an electrolyte imbalance, which leads to dehydration. if you answered 2 or 3 you need to make sure to drink more fluids during your busy day. It's recommended one drink eight 8 oz. glasses of water a day.
Do you skip meals?
1. No, I do not.
2. Yes, from time to time.
3. Always, I am a big meal skipper.
If you answered 3 to this question, make an effort to eat at least two meals a day, and add a few healthy snacks in between meals.
Are you a person that is always on the go?
1. Yes, I am always on the go.
2. No, not really.
3. I go in spurts, I have periods where my life is hectic, and then sedentary periods.
Exercise is great, but if you answered 1 to this question, you still may be a candidate for leg cramps. If you are not eating properly, and taking in a proper amount of fluids, you can develop dehydration and all the nasty symptoms that accompany dehydration.
This question is for those that are plagued with reoccurring leg cramps.
When you are experiencing leg cramps, are they accompanied by other symptoms, such as dizziness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, lethargy?
1. Yes, I do experience some of these symptoms.
2. No, I actually just have the leg cramps.
3.This is a hard question, at times when I am having leg cramps I do have some of the above-mentioned symptoms. However, sometimes I just have leg cramps alone.
This question is to bring to light the more severe cases of dehydration. If you answered 1 and 3 you need to alter your daily eating and drinking habits. You are putting your body through undue stress of electrolyte imbalance, which may lead to a more severe case of dehydration.
Helpful Tips To Stave Off Leg Cramps
Hopefully, you will take steps to eat better, and make sure to drink enough fluids. Especially on a busy or stressful day.
I would encourage my readers to include foods and fluids that contain the three very important electrolytes that can help prevent problems with leg cramping. These three electrolytes, calcium, potassium, and sodium are associated, and proven to aid in building and maintaining good muscle health, along with good bone health. However, most importantly, these electrolytes play a major role in keeping the hydration balance in the human body.
Let's discover the benefits of calcium, potassium, and sodium.
Calcium, Potassium, and Sodium: The Big Three
These are the three major electrolytes that can help maintain hydration balance in the human body.
To put it simply, electrolytes, as a rule, do pretty well on their own, keeping themselves in good balance, as a rule. If a human is eating a healthy diet, and taking in fluids, all should be well in regards to keeping once muscles in good health, well hydrated, and pain-free. The trouble starts when the electrolytes are depleted.
A good example, the day you decide to not eat breakfast and headed out for a day of activity. In the middle of the day, your body may crave sodium. However, has not received an adequate amount.
So, where does the human body get electrolytes from? Electrolytes are supplied by what we eat, and drink. It's as simple as that. Calcium, potassium, and sodium, are present in the foods, and fluids we take in. By making sure we eat well and take in ample fluids, we can maintain a good normal electrolyte balance, and hopefully stave off dehydration, and those painful leg cramps that can accompany dehydration.
Food Sources for Potassium
Recommended Daily Allowance of potassium (RDA) = 3500 milligrams
If you are having leg cramps, and think your leg cramps might be due dehydration, try to consume some foods that will beef up the big three electrolytes. You may be surprised how quickly those leg cramps disappear. Tip- start by eating a nice big banana.
Here are some other good food choices that can provide your body lots of potassium.
Fruits: Apples, apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, figs, honeydew, kiwi, oranges, orange juice, peaches, prunes, strawberries, tomatoes, raisins, prunes, watermelon,
Vegetables: Spinach, Squash, Vegetable Juices, legumes, winter Squash, lima beans, avocados, potatoes, celery, carrots, broccoli, artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, corn, dates, green beans, green peppers, Iceberg lettuce, kidney beans, onions, papayas, parsley, pumpkin, peas, romaine lettuce, sweet potato.
Nuts: brazil nuts, roasted peanuts with skin
Fish: Cod, flounder, sardines, salmon
Poultry: chicken, turkey
Grains: bran, wheat, brown rice, white rice, wheat bread
Food Sources for Calcium
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for women:
- Age 9 to 18 years: 1300 mg
- Age 19 - 50 years: 1000 mg
- Over Age 51 years: 1200 mg
RDA for men:
- Age 9 to 18 years: 1300 mg
- Age 19 - 50 years: 1000 mg
- Over Age 51 years: 1200 mg
Good food sources for calcium:
Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt, plain, skim milk, wheat bread, cereals (most cereals have calcium added)
Collards, frozen, chopped
Rhubarb, frozen or fresh
Spinach, frozen, chopped or leaf
Turnip greens, frozen, cooked
Spinach, cooked or raw
Collards, cooked or fresh
Blackeyed peas, cooked, boiled,
Fast Foods: Need Calcium in a pinch
enchilada, with cheese
nachos, with cheese
Tostada with guacamole
sundae, hot fudge
Fish: finfish, sardine (Atlantic, canned in oil, drained solids with bone)
Sodium: A Little Goes A Long Way
The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for sodium is to consume less than 2,400 milligrams (mg) a day. This is about 1 teaspoon of table salt per day. It includes all salt and sodium consumed, including sodium used in cooking and at the table.
Sodium is important for hydration, as well as for good health.
Sodium is one of the electrolytes that are very important for cell health and plays a key role in keeping the body hydrated.
Sodium works to push water into cells, while potassium does its job of pushing waste out of cells. This balance between sodium, and potassium actually helps to prevent dehydration and promotes healthy cell function. Sodium is especially important during physical activity, due to electrolytes being lost through active sweating. Adequate levels of sodium are needed to maintain this delicate balance in the body.
Sodium is prevalent in most foods, it's not hard to find foods that contain salt. However, in the case of dehydration, one needs a bit of salt, to replace what the body lost in its state of dehydration.
In a pinch grab a few potato chips. Salty snacks are a good way to replace sodium.
Healthy Sources of Sodium:
Let's face it, sodium is abundant in processed foods. However, keep in mind most processed foods are also full of saturated fats, Trans fat, along with sugar and preservatives. While these additives can be harmful to your health, it's possible to find processed foods that add sodium to your diet, without ruining your healthy eating efforts. Salted nuts can provide healthy fats, protein, and fiber along with that needed sodium.
Items typically found in jars can provide sodium, while limiting calories. Foods such as dill pickles, olives, and salsas. Along with lightly salted whole wheat crackers can also provide sodium and healthy fiber.
Sodium and Sports Drinks:
Sports drinks are specifically designed to combat the problem of sodium deficiency. If your diet contains adequate amounts of sodium, water is sufficient. However, once your activity level exceeds the norm, and you deplete your sodium level, a sports drink will provide the electrolytes needed to restore hydration and cell function in a mild case of dehydration.
Leg Cramps That Are Due To Overexertion
Naturally one can overwork any given body muscle. The leg muscles can easiest become overworked, and pain will most often occur in the leg if any leg muscle has had undone strain or has been over-used.
The most common culprit that can cause leg muscle pain from overuse is exercise. Especially a form of exercise that is new to the body. "The new Zumba class or perhaps you just started a new regime of speed walking?
Leg muscles can even become sore due to a new shoe style. For example, as a rule, you may wear a four-inch heel to work, and one day you decided to wear a "flat shoe" to work. The change in the heel height or the change in arch support can play havoc with leg muscles. By the end of the day, you may find that your legs are "killing you"! The following day, your legs hurt even more. You have unintentionally overworked muscles in your legs, that as a rule just don't get a workout.
This type of leg pain can most often be treated with over the counter "Motrin", and a long hot soak in the tub.
If your discomfort lasts more than a week, I suggest you see a physician. You may have a muscle inflammation due to muscle damage.
Unsure What's Causing Your Leg Cramps?
If you are unsure of what is causing your leg cramps, I have a suggestion.
Keep a diary. On the days you experience leg cramps, jot down what you did that day. For example: "I was shopping, on my feet for four hours."
Jot down what you ate and drank for the entire day. "I did not eat, I was so rushed today. I did not take time to eat, and took in only a small amount of fluids." Or, "I actually had a fast cup coffee in the morning. I ate dinner at 6 PM. I had a potato, steak, and green beans. In the evening, I had a few peanuts. My leg cramps subsided."
Make sure to jot down when your leg cramps subsided.
After you have entered a few days of what you have experienced with your leg cramps, check what you have logged in your diary. Do you see any correlation in the activity of the day and the food and fluids you consumed?
Did your cramps subside after you ate dinner, and were relaxing for the evening? If this is the case, your leg cramps most likely were caused by slight dehydration, brought on by a fluctuation in your electrolytes.
Muscle Tension - let's take the crimp out of that cramp.
Massage the area very gently. This can help the muscle relax. (Never massage an area where you can physically feel any form of lump or nodule.)
S-tr-et-ch. Attempt to slowly stretch the affected muscle.
Try a wall stretch. stand about three feet from the wall, with your knees straight and your heels on the floor. Now, lean into the wall, supporting yourself with your hands. You should feel your calf muscles stretching. Hold for 60 seconds, repeat 3 times.
Sip fluids - If you develop leg camps that you can attribute to overexertion, and dehydration, it's time to sip fluids. Sports drinks or orange juice are good options to help hydrate your body. Focus on eating and drinking, foods and fluids that contain calcium, and potassium. Think bananas, oranges, milk, yogurt, perhaps even a turkey.