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What are leg cramps?

A leg cramp is a pain that comes from a leg muscle. It is due to a muscle spasm, which occurs when a muscle contracts too hard. It usually occurs in a calf muscle, below and behind a knee. The small muscles of the feet are sometimes affected.

A cramp pain typically lasts a few minutes. In some cases it lasts just seconds; however, in some cases it lasts up to 10 minutes. The severity of the pain varies. The muscle may remain tender for up to 24 hours after a leg cramp. Leg cramps usually occur when you are resting - most commonly at night when in bed. They are often called night cramps. They may wake you. It can become a distressing condition if your sleep is regularly disturbed.

Many people have an occasional leg cramp. However, they occur frequently and even every day in some people. They are more common in older people. About 1 in 3 people over the age of 60 and about half of people over the age of 80 have regular leg cramps. About 4 in 10 people who have leg cramps have at least three per week.

What causes muscle cramps?

Muscle cramps result from an involuntary contraction of a skeletal muscle. Overuse, prolonged exercise without proper conditioning, and fatigue are common causes of muscle cramps. In addition, dehydration and depletion of electrolytes, including magnesium, calcium and potassium, can lead to muscle cramps.
Diabetes-related artery disease might reduce circulation to a muscle and cause cramping. Not moving a muscle for a long period of time may also lead to muscle cramps when circulation is reduced or a nerve is compressed. Cramping can also result from low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Musculoskeletal causes of muscle cramps

Muscle cramps may have musculoskeletal causes including:
  • Failure to stretch and warm up a muscle prior to exercise
  • Muscle strain
  • Overexertion (prolong exercise without proper fluid and electrolyte replacement)
  • Overuse injury
  • Remaining in one position for an extended period of time

Other causes of muscle cramps

Muscle cramps can also have other causes including:
  • Arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • Dehydration (loss of body fluids and electrolytes, which can be life threatening when severe and untreated)
  • Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Ischemia (insufficient flow of blood to any tissue)
  • Nerve entrapment or compression such as of the ulnar nerve in the arm
  • Peripheral neuropathy (possible pelvic mass)
  • Some kidney diseases

Serious or life-threatening causes of muscle cramps

In some cases, muscle cramps may be a symptom of severe dehydration, a loss of body fluids and electrolytes that can be life threatening and should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting.


Muscle cramps are often infrequent in people with or without diabetes, and massaging the affecting muscle while stretching it out can relieve the pain.
However, if you are experiencing regular muscle cramps then you should consult your diabetes care team, who can ascertain the cause and if treatment is required.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy , controlling your blood sugar is crucial to reduce the further risk of nerve damage. Your doctor may also prescribe you medication for the pain.
A healthy diet is crucial for people with diabetes, but some people experiencing muscle cramps may do so due to a lack of vitamins and nutrients. Dietary supplements may be advised by your doctor, but only in accordance with the current medication you are taking.
Physical therapy can teach exercises that reduce discomfort, while instigating action yourself, such as regularly going for walks and soaking your legs and feet in a warm bath can ease muscle pain.


There are a number of ways in which people with diabetes can prevent muscle cramps from occurring, including:
Carefully monitoring blood glucose levels
Eat foods rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Wear footwear that is supportive and comfortable.
For preventative treatment that is not specifically for people with diabetes, you could also try to avoid the following to reduce your risk of muscle cramps:

Overusing a muscle

Staying in one position for a long time



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