Leg cramps can happen at any time, but are most common during the night. Some people might even be woken up from an otherwise peaceful sleep by a sharp cramp in their legs.
Although leg cramps can occur on their own, they are also commonly associated with certain medical conditions, including vein disease such as varicose veins. Understanding why you’re getting cramps can help you determine the best way to cope with them.
Symptoms of Leg Cramps
When you get a cramp in your leg, a muscle, usually a hamstring or calf muscle, contracts. The contraction is involuntary and usually causes a person to feel a sharp pain in the affected muscle. In some cases, the cramp itself is visible, as a small lump can be seen or felt in the effected muscle. Once the muscle relaxes, it can still feel tender and sore for some time afterwards. Depending on the severity of the cramps, the pain felt can last for just a few seconds or can persist for several minutes.
What Causes Leg Cramps
In many cases, leg cramps occur for a simple reason. You might have strained your leg muscles during exercise or your body might be dehydrated. A drop in your electrolytes or a deficiency in certain minerals, such as magnesium, can also cause cramping in the legs.
You might also get cramps in the legs if you need to sit in one place for a long time, such as on a flight or during a long car ride. Some conditions can also make you more at risk for developing leg cramps.
For example, vein disease can often be a contributing factor in cramping. When your muscles aren’t able to get an adequate amount of blood, they will seize or cramp up. The cramping often occurs during exercise, as the body isn’t able to send enough blood to the muscles that are working hard.
Varicose veins, which develop when the valves in certain veins become weakened, can also contribute to leg cramps. Although many people consider varicose veins to be a cosmetic issue, the condition can cause a number of physical symptoms, aside from cramps, such as itching, throbbing and burning in the legs.
Treating Leg Cramps
One of the first things to do if you are experiencing leg cramps is determine the cause of the cramps. If you only get cramps occasionally, you might not need any type of treatment. Some people get adequate relief from gentle stretching or from soaking the leg in a warm bath. But if the cramps are a regular, recurring issue for you, treating the underlying cause is often the best course of action.
In the case of leg cramps associated with vein disease, working with a vein doctor is often the way to go. The doctor can evaluate your legs and veins and help you determine which treatment will best help you.