What causes leg cramps?

Lesley Dobson / 07 January 2015 ( 25 March 2019 )

Read our guide to the causes of leg cramps and what they can mean for your health.

How to treat and prevent leg cramps

We don’t always know what causes leg cramps. In these cases they are known as idiopathic leg cramps. However, there are cases where leg cramps can be linked to particular causes.

Simply growing older can be the source of the problem. As we age we tend to lose muscle mass. This means that the muscle that’s left may become stressed because it has to do more work, and this may cause cramps.

How to maintain muscle mass as you get older

Doing more exercise than usual, and putting extra strain on your leg muscles, being dehydrated, and drinking too much alcohol can also cause cramps.

In some cases muscle cramps can be connected to medical conditions that you may or may not know you have.

If the nerves in your spine are being compressed (lumbar stenosis), this can cause pain in your legs that feels like muscle cramps. The more you walk, the worse the pain is likely to be.

Read more about leg cramp symptoms

Poor blood supply to your legs, caused by a narrowing of your arteries, can cause pain similar to leg cramps when you are exercising. This pain usually stops after you stop exercising.

You are more likely to have muscle cramps if you have diabetes or disorders of your thyroid or liver. Medicines taken for specific conditions can increase your risk too.

These include some diuretics (used to help expel surplus fluid from your body, and for treating high blood pressure).

Other medications that can cause cramps include:

  • statins, used to reduce your levels of low-density lipoprotein
  • salbutamol, used to treat asthma
  • terbutaline, used to ease the symptoms of asthma and bronchitis, including coughing, wheezing and breathlessness
  • phenothiazines, used to treat mental and emotional disorders may cause muscle cramps, or increase the frequency with which they happen
  • Having high or low sodium or potassium levels can also cause leg cramps

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.