What causes leg cramps?

What causes leg cramps?

Leg cramps are something that our clients don’t come to see a Chiropractor with, but they may say in the consultation ‘I’m getting dreadful leg cramps, any idea what is causing them?’

As Chiropractors we are trained to recognise health conditions that may need referral to another specialist to help improve overall health.

We co-manage a lot of cases with medical specialists, in a case of leg cramps and back pain, if we believe there is a back issue that can be treated by Chiropractic, but the leg cramps are a circulatory issue we will refer to the cardiology department whilst treating the back pain if it is safe to do so.

There is no point carrying on with pain in your back whilst waiting for the NHS cardiologist to sign you off for treatment, if we can safely do everything, we need to then we see no reason not to get you feeling better. I think often in life we wait for the perfect conditions to start things, like now we are all saying, ‘I will start that exercise regie next year’ or ‘start studying a new language in January’, if conditions allow the time is now.

A mentor of mine said to me ‘no one ever sees what you do when it’s dark and raining, it’s only when the sun comes out that others notice’. It reminded me of the David Beckham documentary on Netflix. Beckham didn’t turn in to one of the greatest free kick takers overnight, it took years of training, sacrifice and doing the work that no one else was prepared to do before he perfected his craft, but you never see that, it is all done behind closed doors. And we are then led to believe, ‘well he is gifted’ or ‘it’s in his genetic makeup’.

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What are leg cramps?

There are several causes of leg cramps:

  1. Dehydration: If you are not taking on enough fluid through the day it can distort the balance of electrolytes in the body such as Sodium, Potassium, and magnesium. If these are not in the correct balance then the muscles don’t function properly and can result in cramping, particularly in the calves as they are further away from the body and heart, so the blood takes longer to come back to the heart.
  2. Nerve compression: we often see this as Chiropractors that no matter how much fluid a client drinks, they still have cramps, this can often mimic nerve pain arising from the lower back due to stenosis or disc bulge. Best to check the whole root of the nerve before prescribing any treatment.
  3. Muscle overuse: if you have done more exercise than normal or a different type of exercise then the muscles will work differently. Most of us have experienced the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after a long walk or run that we haven’t done in a while. This is nothing to be concerned about and is normal as your muscle adapts.
  4. Poor blood circulation: this is where we need to be careful, if we do think that this is a circulatory issue then we would refer out for help on this one. Peripheral arterial disease can cause leg cramps and needs attention.
  5. Diabetes: if the client is diabetic then the peripheral (outer) nerves can get affected due to glucose imbalances.
  6. Pregnancy: this is more common in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. We currently have two of our amazing team that are pregnant and just about to go off on maternity leave.

How to get rid of leg cramps?

If you have had leg cramps there are two types, the first is the agonsing cramp when you are sitting down or in the car and you quickly feel the need to stretch it out, this usually goes after a minute or so. The second Is a low-level cramp or twitch that is frustrating and doesn’t want to go. Try these methods and let me know if they help:

  1. Stretching: if it is you calf you want to try a light calf stretch to release the pressure off the muscle, this can be done in bed if you get night cramps, but more effective if you are standing up and pushing against a wall or balancing on a step, you can see more here. Hold it for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
  2. Hydration: ensure you are drinking at least a litre of water each day, have a glass first thing as you will be dehydrated from the night.
  3. Electrolytes: you can get electrolyte drinks in the supermarket such as Lucozade, just ensure they are the non-sugar ones. You can also drink tonic water as the quinine is reported to help with leg cramps. That doesn’t mean you can have gin as well.
  4. Compression socks: these are tight stockings that can be put around the legs to increase recovery and blood flow. I use these for running with, I would get the ones that don’t have the sole to them otherwise they are hard to put on, get the sleeves they are easier and just as effective.
  5. Heat: putting a hot water bottle under the calves when you are resting on the sofa can increase blood flow and reduce cramps.

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If you do know someone who wants more advice, please send them our details. You can send them this assessment as well to diagnose their back pain. It is a great tool to understand where your back pain is coming from, it is free and takes 60 seconds. Click here for assessment

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