Calf cramps: causes and treatment routes

Calf cramps often develop suddenly, especially at night. Here you can find out how the painful cramps develop and what helps against them.

Leg cramps: legs of a woman

What are leg cramps?

When a calf cramps, muscle contracts, which can cause very severe pain. Often a single wrong movement (e.g. when running or swimming) is enough to trigger leg cramps, but many people also explicitly suffer from nighttime leg cramps. There is not always a recognizable cause for the cramps (cramps or campus syndrome), but they usually subside quickly with a few simple stretching exercises.
The leg cramps can only last for a few seconds, but sometimes they last for several minutes. However, most people instinctively use the right remedy to relieve pain by stretching the calf muscles. The tip of the foot is pulled towards the body and the heel is pushed forward in parallel. This makes the cramp go more easily and the pain subsides. However, the consequences of calf cramps often have something to struggle with - for example, the calf of many sufferers has hardened over a few days.

Causes of leg cramps

There are several possible triggers for leg cramps. These include:
  • Excessive muscle strain: Athletes, in particular, suffer more frequently from leg cramps. On the one hand, they put a lot of pressure on their muscles and do not give them enough or no training breaks, on the other hand, they sweat a lot and lose fluid and minerals. The nerves need this, however, in order to be able to give the muscle fibers commands such as relaxing or tensing. To prevent this, you should drink a lot when you exercise a lot. In general, the muscles only work well if they get enough nutrients. B. magnesium and potassium. An unbalanced electrolyte balance can cause many health problems.
  • The muscles are under-challenged: On the contrary, those who do little or no sport ensure that the muscles shrivel. If the muscle is underwhelmed, nocturnal calf cramps are a common consequence.
  • Anatomical reasons: Patients with misaligned feet, sagging or spreading feet are also more prone to night leg cramps.
  • Footwear: Shoes that are too tight or too small are also a reason for leg cramps.
  • General lack of fluids or nutrients: Not only if you drink too little, but also if you suffer from diarrhea, for example, the body is not optimally supplied - which can lead to leg cramps.
  • Hormone and metabolic disorders: During pregnancy, the fluid and mineral balance changes. Especially from the second half of pregnancy, pregnant women need more magnesium, among other things - if it is not supplied, calf cramps can be promoted. Metabolic diseases such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism also cause nighttime cramps.
  • Diseases: Various diseases increase the risk of leg cramps. These include, for example, muscle diseases, diabetes, circulatory or nervous disorders or infections with fever and/or diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Medications: Some medications have calf cramps as side effects, such as high blood pressure medication or laxatives. Here you should study the package leaflet.
  • Age: The older we get, the higher the risk of leg cramps, especially at night, because the muscles tend to shorten and you often move less. In addition, older people often forget to drink enough.
In some cases, no cause can be found in muscle cramps. Then one speaks of so-called idiopathic calf cramps, which are no longer threatening, as long as they do not occur frequently and improve again by slightly stretching and stretching the muscles.

Therapy: what helps against leg cramps?

Acute calf cramps are best relieved primarily by stretching the legs and stretching exercises. In the long term, it is especially important to treat any triggering diseases and to strengthen the muscles - because the stronger the muscles are, the less likely they are to be calf cramps. There are special exercises for the lower leg muscles for this purpose. It also helps to loosen the muscles a little every day before bed. The following measures can also help:
  • Nutrition: A balanced diet provides the body with all the nutrients it needs (e.g. calcium and magnesium). Fruit and vegetables, high-fiber foods (e.g. in whole grains), lean dairy products, lean meat and lots of fish should be on the menu frequently.
  • Drinking a lot: We should drink at least 2.5 liters of water a day, those who exercise or are exposed to high temperatures need more.
  • Food supplements: If there is a lack of nutrients (e.g. a magnesium deficiency), supplementation may also be useful. This should only be done in consultation with the doctor.

When do I need to see a doctor for leg cramps?

If calf cramps occur occasionally, this is not a cause for alarm - maybe you really only moved unfavorably once. In the following cases, a prompt examination by the doctor is advisable:
  • Frequent muscle cramps
  • Cramps that do not dissolve through stretching and stretching
  • The calf cramps mainly occur with certain movements
  • The leg cramps are extremely painful and often last for several minutes
  • The calf cramps ensure persistent lack of sleep
  • Swelling in the legs or feet
  • Additional back pain
  • Numbness, tingling or paralysis - such symptoms are considered an emergency!
The first port of call is usually the family doctor, who will ask about symptoms and previous illnesses and then possibly refer the patient to a specialist. Depending on the cause, this can be, for example, an expert in neurology or an orthopedist.

Leg cramps or restless legs syndrome?

Some people confuse leg cramps with the so-called restless legs syndrome. The phenomenon, popularly known as the syndrome of restless legs, causes a constant urge to move in the legs with a tingling sensation, slight pain, and muscle twitching. The symptoms are uncomfortable, but not as painful as a real calf cramp and the muscles are not hardened afterward. The restless legs syndrome can cause persistent insomnia cause and should be treated by a doctor.

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