The reasons for leg cramps are sought by millions of people around the world who suffer from very painful cramps or spasms in the thigh, calf and foot.
What are the reasons for leg cramps at night or even during the night while you are asleep? but can also occur during the day because of exercise. Seniors are no exception. Are you one of these sufferers?
There are at least 10 reasons for leg cramps. These can be split into two categories – general causes, and causes due to medical conditions.
Note that leg cramps caused by medical conditions cannot be treated by simple remedies. Diagnosis and treatment of these conditions can only be made by a doctor.
If you fall into this category, you should immediately book an appointment to speak to your healthcare provider.
This article evaluates the common reasons for leg cramps, highlights some medical causes, some natural ways of treating leg cramps, and discusses some simple exercises to relieve the excrutiating pain experienced – when ithey do happen.
Table of Contents
Reasons For Leg Cramps – General Causes
Too much exercise especially when your muscles are not used to it can cause cramping and spasms in the legs. This is one of the commonest reasons for leg cramps and pain.
This frequently occurs for example if you live a sedentary lifestyle and then go for a long walk, run or other activity.
It is why you are always told to start any exercise regimen slowly, and gradually build up the intensity. Cramping and spasms in the legs caused by over exertion can be particularly painful.
Only those who experience it like myself, can truly understand what it feels like!
Over exertion can be one of the reasons for leg cramps in elderly people because many of them typically maintain a sedentary lifestyle, spending long hours on the couch. Obviously, getting up and moving around more will help.
NATURAL REMEDY: Consume sunflower seeds, almonds or wheat germ oil to speed up recovery after over exercising the muscles. The vitamin E they contain is released to help repair plasma membranes in the muscle cells.
Low Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an essential vitamin which increases oxygen to the muscles and prevents cramping. If its levels are low in the body, you may experience muscle tenderness, cramps and even heart pain (angina).
This vitamin can prevent angina by strengthening the heart muscles.
NATURAL REMEDY: Consume sunflower seeds, avocado, lettuce, asparagus, and almonds to get more vitamin E into the body. This will help to increase the oxygen capacity in the muscle cells. Oxygen deprivation in muscle cells is a well known cause of cramping.
REASONS FOR LEG CRAMPS – DEFICIENCY IN ELECTROLYTES
The most common cause of muscle cramps and spasms in the legs is a deficiency in minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium and chloride).
NATURAL REMEDY: Consume pumpkin seeds, avocados, kale, Swiss chard and almonds to help boost the intake of potassium and magnesium.
Sea kelp is one of the highest sources of calcium along with small-boned fish like anchovies or sardines and eating them will boost your calcium levels.
LACK OF SALT
Salt is essential for the human body and is required for proper muscle function. Salt’s chemical name is sodium chloride derived from a combination of sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl).
Sodium is the electrolyte used to electrically charge muscle cells.
Consequently, if you have low salt levels, you may experience twitching in the muscles or cramping. Salt levels may be one of the reasons for leg cramps at night.
REMEDY: Avoid the use of commercial grade salts as they are loaded with harmful fillers like aluminum, maltodextrin, and anti-clumping agents. Use of Pink Himalayan salt or ancient seabed salts is recommended.
REASONS FOR LEG CRAMPS – MEDICATIONS
Many medications have some serious side effects which can trigger leg cramps if they deplete or block minerals from entering body cells. This is a possible source of cramps in the elderly.
Some of the most common medicines which cause leg cramps are statins for cholesterol and osteoporosis, and anti-acid medications.
Others include anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen, calcium channel blockers, serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, proton pump inhibitors, and fake estrogen tablets.
Antibiotics used for treating infections can also cause problems with the muscles and tendons. These antibiotics are sometimes able to alter the pH of the colon to block some nutrient uptake.
NATURAL REMEDY: Always check on the side effect of any medication before use and discuss with your doctor. If after doing so, you begin to observe cramping and spasms, return to your doctor for a re-evaluation.
Sometimes a combination of 2 or more medications taken together for different ailments can interact and cause problems.
LOW STOMACH ACID
Indigestion, heartburn, bloating or acid reflux are conditions caused by low stomach acid. This is very common as we age because the stomach starts to become very alkaline (high pH).
To effectively absorb minerals like magnesium and potassium you require a stomach with strong acidity (low pH).
REMEDY: Take 1-2 apple cider vinegar capsules before a meal to create strong acidity in the stomach to allow better absorption of electrolyte minerals.
Eating an apple before a meal would also produce a similar effect, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Reasons For Leg Cramps – Some Causes Due to Medical Conditions
People with bulging belly fat may have insulin resistance. They usually have a problem absorbing potassium, magnesium and other nutrients into the muscle cells especially if diabetic resulting in muscle spasms.
These muscles weaken over time because of their inability to absorb enough protein and amino acids.
REMEDY: Consult your physician if you suspect this condition and request a special test to detect this. Also, follow a low-carb diet such as keto or perform intermittent fasting to heal insulin resistance.
DEEP VEIN THROMBOSIS (DVT)
This is a blood clot that causes cramping especially in one leg. The pain may be worse when bending the foot upward towards the knees.
REMEDY: Consult your doctor
REASONS FOR LEG CRAMPS – BLOCKED ARTERIES
In rare cases, a blockage in the arteries may block blood flow to the muscles and cause cramps in the leg. This usually occurs in diabetics, ex or current smokers and those who have had high blood pressure for a long time.
REMEDY: Consult your doctor
This diagnosis can only be made by a doctor. Cancer anywhere in the body causes imbalances of electrolytes and minerals (especially potassium and magnesium) triggering leg cramps.
Stretch the cramped muscle and gently massage it to help it relax. If you’re unable to stand, sit on the floor or in a chair with your affected leg extended. Try to bend the knee if you have a calf cramp
1.Try to pull the top of the foot on the affected side towards the head while the leg remains in a straightened position.
This technique is also helpful to ease a back thigh (hamstring) cramp.
2. If the cramp is in the front thigh (quadriceps), use a chair to steady yourself and then try to pull the foot on the affected side up towards the buttock area (Mayo Clinic 2021).
3. Perform a simple calf stretch each night before lying down to sleep.
4. Tiptoe over a step and stretch the foot down. Hold this for 30 seconds and repeat four times on each leg.
4. Use a warm towel or heating pad or ice to massage the cramped muscle with ice may relieve pain.
These simple exercises are very effective in preventing leg cramps during the night as the stretch stimulates blood and oxygen flow into the muscles.
In addition, leg elevation pillows are beneficial as thy help maintain good blood circulation in the legs.
Refer to a previous article ( Leg Cramps in Seniors. The Best Leg Pillows for Night Relief) on this site for detailed review of different types of leg elevation pillows and what you need to consider when making a choice
A Vegan Supplement To Check
The use of supplements for preventative and relief – provision for leg cramps bring up widely differing views on their success rates for many people as no two people are alike.
One vegan supplement – Magnesium Bisglycinate TRAACS 100% Chelate 200mg 120 Capsules Vegan Magnesium Supplement stands out however, because of its very high rating and popularity in the marketplace as providing moderate relief for leg cramps.
Conclusion – Reasons for Leg Cramps
Some reasons for leg cramps can be more easily identified than the medically related ones. Although very uncomfortable, there are some simple natural remedies and exercises that make leg cramps and spasms more manageable. Supplements may be used – if preferred.
Causes due to medical conditions can only be diagnosed and treated by a doctor.
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What causes frequent leg cramps?
Frequent leg cramps, also known as muscle cramps or charley horses, can have various causes. While occasional leg cramps are common and often harmless, frequent or severe cramps may indicate an underlying issue. Some common causes of frequent leg cramps include dehydration, mineral imbalances, overexertion or muscle fatigue, poor circulation, medications, nerve compression, underlying medical conditions, tight or unsupportive footwear choices, aging and pregnancy.
What deficiency causes leg cramps?
Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium, Sodium, and Vitamin D deficiencies can contribute to leg cramps, they are not always the sole cause. Other factors, such as dehydration, overuse of muscles, or underlying medical conditions, can also play a role in the development of leg cramps.
How do I stop my legs from cramping?
Preventing and stopping leg cramps can be done through a combination of lifestyle changes and immediate actions when a cramp occurs. Strategies that help stop leg cramps and reduce their frequency: include stretching, massages, using hot compress or cold pack, staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet, using supplements, wearing proper footwear, avoiding over-exertion, medication management, addressing underlying conditions, and the use of compression socks.
What do leg cramps at night mean?
Leg cramps that occur at night are also referred to as “nighttime leg cramps” or “nocturnal leg cramps,” can be quite common and have several potential causes. While they are usually harmless, they can be disruptive and uncomfortable. Frequent or severe cramps may indicate an underlying issue and a healthcare professional must be consulted.
How can you treat frequent leg cramps?
You need to identify the underlying cause to be able to treat frequent leg cramps. Maintaining proper hydration, consuming a balanced diet with sufficient minerals, regular stretching and warm-up exercises, and wearing appropriate footwear can help prevent cramps. If cramps persist or are severe, immediately consult a healthcare professional to rule out underlying medical conditions and discuss potential treatments. They may recommend dietary changes, supplements, physical therapy, or other appropriate measures based on the cause of the cramps.
Mayo Clinic (2021) Muscle cramp. Diagnosis and Treatment https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/muscle-cramp/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350825
Mediline Plus (2019) Muscle Cramps www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003193.htm