Leg cramps, also called Charley horses, typically affect the muscles of the thigh and calf. The cramps are characterized by sudden, painful involuntary contractions of the muscles. The spasms often occur while a person is at rest or sleeping and may last a few seconds or several minutes. You may feel a hard lump at the site while the contraction is happening.
The affected muscle often feels tender long after the contraction has passed. This tenderness can last up to 24 hours or more.
Leg cramps themselves are harmless and it is not clear why most occur. If you haven’t strained your muscle in exercise, leg cramps may be a sign of dehydration, muscle fatigue, or poor electrolyte balance. Electrolytes, in particular, are essential for proper muscle function.
Cramps may also happen more often as you age. If you are over 65 years old , you are at a greater risk of developing leg cramps. In rarer cases, muscle cramps are indicative of underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, peripheral artery disease, and hypothyroidism. Overconsumption of alcohol may also trigger cramps.
Unless they happen too frequently, leg cramps rarely need medical attention. There are a variety of remedies you can employ for relief. This article discusses some of them.