Symptoms of leg cramps

A leg cramp is an episode of suddenpain in the muscles of the leg caused by an involuntary contracting (shortening) of the leg muscle.

Most leg cramps occur in the calf muscles and, less commonly, in the feet and thighs.

Cramps can last from a few seconds up to 10 minutes. Thigh muscle crampstend to last the longest.

During acramping episode, the affected muscles will become tight and painful andthe feet and toes will bestiff.

After the cramps have passed, you may havepain and tenderness in your legs for several hours.

When to seek medical advice

If you only getleg crampsoccasionally, it isnot a cause for concern and a medical diagnosis is not required.

A visit to your GP will only be necessary if you get leg cramps frequently, or if they are sopainful they disrupt your sleep and you are unable tofunction normally the next day.

You should also visit your GP if the muscles in your legs are shrinking or becoming weaker.

When to seek immediate medical advice

There are two situations whereleg cramps may be a signof a more serious underlying health condition.

You should seek immediate medical help if:

  • The cramps last longer than 10 minutes and fail to improve, despite exercise.
  • Cramps develop after you comeinto contact with substances that could be toxic (poisonous) or infectious, for example, if you have a cut that is contaminated with soil, which can sometimes cause a bacterial infection, such as Tetanus , or after being exposed to elements such as mercury or lead.

In these circumstances, contact your GP for advice immediately. If this isn't possible,contact your local out-of-hours service or call NHS 111 .

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 5 Jan 2017