Calf cramps or sudden muscle spasms in the calf can happen to anyone, at any time. While they may seem like minor injuries, the truth is that they can seriously impair quality of life or threaten long-term injury, especially for the elderly. If you want to stop calf cramps and prevent them from happening again you need to understand how it is caused and what you can do to treat one.
Calf leg cramps are harmless, involuntary muscle spasms, which can occur in one or more of the calf muscles and can also cause foot and hamstring cramping. Also known as a charley horse, calf cramps happen quickly and can be quite painful. The pain can last for hours but typically resolves within minutes.
Calf cramps at night are the most common. They account for 75% of all painful calf cramps.
Calf Cramp Causes
There are many different causes and pinpointing what is causing your cramping will help you find the right treatment. Since your calf cramping might have multiple causes, read each one carefully to see if it applies to your situation.
Your muscles depend on a balance of the right electrolytes to work efficiently and effectively. When your electrolytes become out of balance you can develop cramping within the muscles. Take a look at your diet to see if you consume enough calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Calcium can be found in dairy and green leafy vegetables. Diet sources for magnesium are spinach, whole grains, and nuts. Potassium is found in bananas, avocado, sweet potato, and spinach. If you are unable to get an adequate amount from your diet, talk with your doctor about which supplements might be right for you.
One of the most common causes of foot and calf cramps is dehydration. Experts believe that dehydration may lead to the nerves becoming sensitive within our muscles. This leads to the muscles around those nerves contracting involuntarily. We suggest keeping a bottle of water nearby to ensure you drink plenty throughout the day, especially during the hot summer.
No one is quite sure as to why pregnant women experience more muscle cramps. Experts believe it may be caused by electrolyte changes or dehydration within the body during the later part of pregnancy.
If your calf cramps still occur even after drinking plenty of water and maintaining adequate electrolyte balances take a look at your medications. The most common perpetrators are statin drugs that are used to lower cholesterol.
Diuretics, also known as water pills, are used to lower blood pressure and make your body lose extra fluids. However, losing too much fluid can lead to calf cramps. If you have recently started a new medication and are now experiencing calf cramps talk to your doctor to see if there is a different medication that you can be prescribed.
All of your muscles are controlled by nerves that begin in your spinal cord. If you have a pinched nerve anywhere along the pathway that leads to your leg you may experience calf cramping. If calf cramps at night cause you to lose sleep you should look into a pinched nerve and discuss potential treatment options with your doctor.
If your exercise program is intense it may be what causes calf muscle cramps in your leg. When the nerves that run down your muscles are used and become overstimulated they can cause involuntary cramping. This is a sign that you should slow down and ramp up your exercise program slowly. Always remember to stretch and drink plenty of water to keep calf cramps at bay.
Calf Cramp Symptoms
Calf cramps in the morning or night are a real pain. You need to know all the symptoms of a calf cramp to help you prevent them from happening again. As in many conditions, calf cramp symptoms will vary person to person. As a result, we have compiled a full list for you to review.
Pain and tenderness
A muscle lump in the calf
For most people calf cramps are just a nuisance. However, in rare cases, they can be a sign of a more serious condition. If you are experiencing severe pain in your calf that does not resolve, have swelling, redness, or muscle weakness in the leg, these are symptoms that warrant a call to your doctor.
Calf Cramp Diagnosis
Obtaining a diagnosis for your calf cramp is typically based on your reported symptoms. Your doctor may ask you what medications you take, your exercise history, or if you have had any injuries to your legs. We recommend bringing a list of your medications to your doctor appointment, or even better, bring all your medication bottles to ensure your doctor will have all the accurate information.
Calf Cramp Treatment
While the majority of people will be able to treat their calf cramps at home, there may not be one calf cramps remedy that works for you every time. You might find that implementing multiple techniques provides the best relief from your worst cramps.
Heat and Cold Therapy
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Using a hot and cold wrap at home after exercise can help relax muscles and prevent cramps. The heat from the wrap will help bring blood to the muscles allowing them to heal faster. Cold wraps can be used to massage a cramped muscle bringing quick relief. We recommend alternating between the cold and hot therapy to achieve best results.
Once a calf cramp starts one of the best things you can do is to walk. Moving the affected muscle will help it reset itself and stop spasming. Take it nice and easy as you start moving your cramped leg. Quick, jerking movements can make the cramping worse.
Personal trainers and experts agree that keeping your calves stretched and limber will help prevent calf cramps. You’ll achieve the best results if you stretch your muscles after a workout. These stretches are also effective if you are having a calf cramp and are looking for relief.
Calf Muscle Stretch
Step 1: Stand near a wall.
Step 2: Place the foot of the affected leg against the wall.
Step 3: Move the unaffected leg back.
Step 4: Bend the knee of the affected leg.
Step 5: For a deeper stretch also bend the unaffected knee.
Calf Stretch with Stairs
Step 1: Stand on a stair with your heels hanging off of the stair.
Step 2: Lower your heels below your toes.
Step 3: Allow your calf muscles to stretch for 15-30 seconds.
If you have had a calf cramp drinking plenty of water will help prevent another one from occurring. Water isn’t a treatment that brings immediate results but it is still very important. We often forget how necessary water is in maintaining our bodies. So grab your favorite water bottle and drink up!
Most medications will not work fast enough to provide relief from a calf cramp. However, if you suffer from frequent cramps and the treatments you implement at home are not effective your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxer. Contact your doctor if you think a muscle relaxer is something that is necessary for your frequent calf cramps.
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A massage is always a good idea! Taking care of sore, overworked calf muscles with a massage ball will help release tension and relax those irritated muscles. People with chronic calf cramps will be surprised at how tense their muscles are and the amount of relief a simple massage can provide.
Calf Cramp Recovery
Calf cramp recovery is typically just a few minutes. Occasionally, it can last longer. Recovery times are faster for those who are well hydrated and follow a consistent treatment plan.
Maintaining healthy muscles by stretching, regular exercise, and a healthy diet will help prevent future calf cramps. If you experience frequent calf cramps or you cannot manage them with techniques at home contact your doctor.
Overcoming Calf Cramps
While calf cramps can certainly be a pain, they are manageable with a variety of treatment options listed above. Try a few for yourself to see which is the most effective. If you don’t find relief with home remedies contact your doctor to evaluate you for other conditions.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager and at ViveHealth.com. With vast product knowledge and understanding of individual needs, she aims to share valuable information on making smart buying choices, overcoming obstacles and overall improving the quality of life for others. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle.
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