What Causes Leg Cramps?

Leg cramps also called charley horses, are uncontrolled spasms [1] in the muscles of the leg that may be painful. They typically occur in the calf muscles, though they may also appear in the thighs or feet. They are painful, involuntary muscle contractions that can last seconds or minutes. They affect activities like sleep, exercise routine, and general quality of life. LC feels like a clenched, contracted muscle tightened into a knot. It can be severely uncomfortable, painful, or even unbearable. The muscles in the area might hurt for hours after the ache goes away.

Leg cramps at night [2], or nocturnal leg cramps, are common and can occur due to inactivity during the day, tired muscles, or certain medical conditions. Nocturnal leg cramps can also lead to other health complications. They tend to cause insomnia because they disrupt your sleep or alter your sleep patterns, putting you at a risk of daytime fatigue. This condition may make it very difficult to fall asleep, and this could lead to health problems like insomnia.

This condition can be excruciating, and the attack often occurs when the body is at rest or sound asleep, waking you with a violent reaction and worsens over time. The muscles start to ache when they involuntarily contract, which feels like a painful knot and renders you momentarily immobile. Experiencing this condition at night is fairly common, and people may confuse nocturnal leg cramps with restless leg syndrome. Here are the common causes [3] of leg cramps:

Tired Muscles

Muscle fatigue is the primary cause of leg cramps. Athletes are at a high risk of experiencing it after performing high-intensity activities. Overexertion, such as exercising the muscles very intensely for a long time, may increase the severity of the pain 0vertime. You are at high risk if the nature of your job requires you to stand for long periods, or you take public transport, so you are always waiting for the bus or train. The muscles tire during the day and are likely to ache later on at night.

Certain activities can make you more prone to LC. These include exercises that rely heavily on the leg muscles, such as:

  • Recreational running
  • Weight training
  • Sports that require a lot of running like soccer or basketball

Some experts say muscle fatigue is the leading cause of leg cramps. The risks are even higher when these muscles are fatigued in hot weather or when you don’t stay hydrated. Activities related to leg cramps can be prevented by drinking plenty of water and taking it easy and also by avoiding exercise when fatigued.