Cramps are often described as unpleasant, generally painful sensations caused by muscle contraction or over shortening. When people talk about cramps they usually refer to muscle cramps and they are described as a sudden, involuntary contraction of a muscle.
This type of pain is most often experienced in the legs, and it usually occurs in the calf muscles below the knee, although they can affect any part of the leg. The common name for these muscle cramps is leg cramps or so called Charley horse which is a popular term.
Leg cramps are mostly harmless condition. In three out of four cases, leg cramps occur at night during sleep and most of the times the pain lasts less than one minute, but it may last longer than a minute until the contraction relieves. Leg cramps occur primarily at night and with some patients the pain wakes them from sleep.
Leg cramps that most commonly occur during the night are called Nocturnal leg cramps. Nocturnal leg cramps are uncontrolled muscle contractions. Calves, soles of the feet, or other muscles in the body are places usually affected by these cramps. Night leg cramps are problematic because they can leave a person fully incapacitated, and they can be excruciating when they appear. The person ends up writhing in agony for the duration of the cramp.
The precise cause of Leg cramps is still unclear and not really understood, but there are some potential contributing factors. They include:
It is a mystery to say in what way dehydration and muscle cramping are connected but it is a fact that dehydration can be one of the causes for leg cramps. It is very important to stay hydrated during heavy exercise.
Muscle cramps are very common during pregnancy. Leg cramps during pregnancy may be caused by the weight a woman is carrying, calcium deficiency or changes in circulation. These types of cramps are especially often in the last trimester.
Electrolyte imbalance is the only leg cramp cause that has been medically confirmed. This means that a person suffering from leg cramps may have low levels of certain minerals (magnesium, potassium, calcium, and sodium).
There are many other causes for these particular types of cramps and among others are:
• High weight (but not necessarily obesity)
• Heavy exercising
• Certain medications
• Muscle fatigue
Another condition linked to occurrence of leg cramps is poor circulation in legs, but opinions about their connection are pretty divided.
However, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance are believed to be one of the leg cramps triggers. This is, again, linked with vigorous and strenuous physical activities, primarily in sports or certain jobs that require muscle work. Older adults and elderly people are more prone to these states as they often suffer from diseases and conditions that require the use of diuretics (for increased urination) and disturb the electrolyte and minerals balance.
Another cause of leg cramps might be sudden and rapid body fluid shifts and changes. Such instances include, for example, liver cirrhosis that causes the accumulation of fluids in the abdominal cavity, or during kidney dialysis when cramps are a frequent side effect.