Leg cramps can be very painful; anyone who has experienced them knows that. What many debate is the cause of these involuntary contractions of muscles. The mystery surrounding these burning sensations arises, at least in part, from the wide diversity of individuals and occasions that leg cramps plague. From professional athletes in the middle of key games to executives at home relaxing, leg cramps don’t seem to discriminate. Medical professionals aren’t exactly prone to a particular consensus regarding the genesis of muscle cramps, either, but most agree that the following causes are most probable:
Loss of only 1-2% of your body’s water levels can cause dehydration. Water consumption is key to your metabolic health as well as your muscle and joint health. Without enough fluid intake, your muscles will retain metabolites such as lactic acid, which are produced with muscle use. A buildup of lactic acid can cause involuntary muscular contractions, or cramping. Even if your cramping isn’t caused by dehydration, you’ll probably benefit by drinking more fluids, and especially more water. Water intoxication can be a concern if you’re consuming too much water in a short period of time, but this scenario is quite rare compared to dehydration.
2. Micronutrient deficiency
The mineral, or micronutrient, potassium helps your body to balance its acid with its water levels. An imbalance in sodium and potassium can interrupt your muscle’s contraction patterns. The good news is that potassium deficiencies can be easily overcome by consumption of potassium-rich foods or vitamin supplements that will help your body to absorb the potassium you take in. Regularly eating bananas can help you retain a balance of potassium levels, as can tomatoes, wheat germ, figs, currants, bran flakes, sunflower seeds, and raisins. Like water, most of us could use increasing our consumption of any of those foods, so self-medicating by eating more of them certainly won’t hurt.
3. Lack of blood flow
For those who are inactive or aging, blood flow to the legs can be compromised. When blood flow to an area of the body is reduced, oxygen doesn’t get to those areas. When oxygen doesn’t reach a body part, it can’t remove waste products from the tissue. Leg muscles often respond to this problem by cramping. The simplest response is to increase regular movement of your legs. When extended time periods of sitting are necessary, taking hourly breaks to walk around for even a few short minutes can make the difference.
4. Chronic overuse of a muscle
Muscular cramping can result from the tension between overuse and underuse. For example, weaker muscles higher on the leg can produce cramping of overused calf muscles, when the overused muscles constantly compensate for weaker muscles such as the hamstrings or buttocks. As you might imagine, atrophied hamstrings or weak buttocks muscles can be strengthened by exercising them routinely.
If none of the above reasons and solutions prove appropriate and you experience leg cramping regularly, you should see a physician or physical therapist.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists, physical trainers & nutritionists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website (link) for more information.