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Osteopathy: Leg Cramps


A common and usually harmless condition where the muscles in the leg suddenly become tight and painful. Most commonly this occurs in the calf muscles, though it can affect any muscle of the leg or foot. Most let cramps occur during sleep. Most cases reported to doctors occur in pregnant women in the last trimester and the over 60s, though all ages and both sexes can be affected.

Symptoms: The muscles in the affected part of the leg suddenly become tight and painful due to an involuntary contracting or shortening of the affected leg muscle. This is known as a spasm and the muscle cannot be controlled. This is most common in the calf muscles and the feet and toes can become stiff too. Cramps can last from a few seconds to 10 minutes, with the thigh muscles lasting longest. Once the cramp has eased, it may remain painful and tender for several hours.

Causes: Leg cramps that occur for no apparent reason are called idiopathic leg cramps. Secondary leg cramps can occur as a complication or symptom from an underlying health condition. Theories about the cause of idiopathic leg cramps include sudden restriction of blood supply to the affected muscle, abnormal nerve activity during sleep, excessive strain such as during exercise or age related shortening of the tendons, elastic tissue attaching muscle to bone. Secondary leg cramps are caused by extra weight of pregnancy, toxic build-up in liver disease, reduced salt levels due to dehydration, infections such as tetanus, post exercise while resting, neurological conditions such as motor neurone disease or peripheral neuropathy. Medication such as diuretics, nefidipine, statins, nicotinic acid and raloxifene can be a cause of cramps.

Diagnosis: You will need to see your doctor if leg cramps are affecting your quality of life, particularly where sleep is affected. Also if they last longer than 10 minutes and exercise does not ease them or if you have been exposed to toxins or infections via a cut. The doctor will ask about symptoms, including numbness and swelling to determine if it is idiopathic or secondary and will also examine your legs and feet. Blood and urine tests may be requested to rule out underlying conditions.

Treatment: If the cause of the cramps is known it may be possible to treat the underlying cause, e.g. giving muscle relaxants where the cramp is due to liver disease. Where the cause is unknown usually exercise and pain killers are recommended.

Exercising the affected muscles can help to ease most cases of leg cramp. Exercise in the day can help reduce the regularity and severity of night time cramping.

Prevention: Stretching the affected muscles regularly may help prevent cramps or reduce their frequency. Stretching the calves before bedtime may help relieve night cramps. Stretching after exercise is generally recommended as good practice.

Osteopathic/Manual Management: Take a detailed case history to understand the nature of the problem and surrounding issues. Examine the legs and feet and all surrounding tissues; muscles, ligaments, nerves, fascia, etc., for movement, strength and functionality and assess nerve pathways. Perform orthopaedic and neurological tests and determine the root cause. Treat to reduce tension, nerve irritation and pain. Advice regarding exercise and stretching of legs and feet. Treatment may include manipulation, deep soft tissue massage, trigger point therapy, muscle energy techniques, fascial techniques, dry needling, etc. Bathing in Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) can help to relax tight muscles.


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Registered Osteopath & Kinesiologist & Yoga Teacher

Aether Bios Clinic

Tel: 01273 309557
Mob: 07710 227038

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