Why Leg Cramps Happen & When To Worry

Almost everyone has experienced leg cramping at one time or another. Typically, leg cramps can be quickly relieved and are not a cause for concern – but occasionally, cramping can be a sign of a more serious condition.

Man holding cramping leg

What Is Leg Cramping?

Cramps in the legs are common. These sudden, involuntary muscle contractions can occur in the thigh, leg, knee, or ankle, and are often tight and painful.

Most leg cramps last from a few seconds up to 10 minutes depending on the location.

What Causes Leg Cramps?

There is a variety of factors that can lead to leg cramps. The most common causes of cramps include dehydration, muscle overuse and muscle strain or trauma.  A common alternate cause is venous insufficiency

You may experience leg cramps more often if you are:

  • Pregnant
  • A habitual smoker
  • Older and/or have diminished muscle mass
  • A patient with liver disease, high cholesterol, or diabetes
  • Taking certain medications, like diuretics

What to Do About Leg Cramps

If you experience leg cramps often, it’s not time to worry yet! Most cramping is not problematic on its own, and will go away with proper mitigation tactics.

Here are some important steps you can take to prevent and relieve leg cramping:

  1. Wear compression hose if you have leg swelling
  2. Get enough daily magnesium and potassium
  3. Stay hydrated with water or electrolyte drinks
  4. Limit caffeine and alcohol (dehydration causing)
  5. Warm up before exercise and cool down afterward
  6. Stretch regularly, including before & after a workout

If you experience cramping during a workout, stop the exercise immediately. Reposition your leg to find comfort, then stretch the area until your symptoms are no longer present.

When To Worry About Leg Cramps

If chronic leg cramping continues outside of exercise and with proper hydration, and/or if you have severe discomfort, swelling or skin redness, this may be a symptom of a more serious health condition.  It is best to start with your primary care provider who can start the process to evaluate from the broad list items that can result in problematic cramping. There are both vascular and non vascular casues, and they can initiate a work up to sort this out.

If one possibility is venous insufficiency you may be able to be helped.  At Inovia Vein, we examine patients with chronic leg cramps to look for blood clots and other symptoms of venous insufficiency. These conditions can lead to swelling in the blood vessels that creates cramping.

For patients shown to have a blood clot or venous insufficiency, we will often recommend exercise, leg elevation, and the use of compression stockings to help resolve these symptoms.  In many patients, when indicated, treating the superficial venous insufficiency with approaches such as Closurefast RFA, Venaseal and Varithena can reduce the cramping considerably.

To set up a consultation to analyze your chronic leg cramping, submit an Online Vein Screening Form or call any of our offices in Northwest PortlandTigardHappy Valley, Hillsboro or Bend, Oregon. 

Ready to Start your Vein Treatment Journey?

Request an appointment today to meet with leading vein experts at any of our clinics in:
NW Portland, Tigard, Happy Valley, Tanasbourne, Vancouver or Bend.


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