Also referred to as a “charley horse,” a leg cramp occurs when a muscle in the calf suddenly contracts or tightens. The cramp may last a few seconds to a few minutes. Leg cramps at night are very common, disrupting sleep. Though not medically harmful, leg cramps can be excruciatingly painful and cause tenderness and soreness for hours after the cramp has resolved.
Most leg cramps occur in the calf muscles; however, leg cramps can occur anywhere in the leg, including the feet and thighs.
Leg cramps have many possible causes, but regular leg cramping is a common symptom of venous insufficiency. In healthy circulation, the deeper leg veins circulate blood back to the heart. Waste products are removed and the blood is replenished with oxygen and nutrients before returning to the legs.
Venous insufficiency occurs when the veins in the legs have difficulty pushing blood back to the heart. The vein walls eventually become weak and valves are damaged. The damaged valves allow the blood to leak or flow backwards and stay in the veins.
Chronic venous insufficiency can cause venous stasis, a condition where the blood pools in the veins. The pooled blood carries waste products and is depleted of oxygen and essential nutrients. This condition then causes leg cramping when the body is unable to clean the waste from the pooled blood.
Although venous insufficiency often causes varicose veins and spider veins, many patients may not have these noticeable signs. Leg cramps may be their only symptom of venous disease, or they may have no symptoms at all. Other symptoms of venous disease vary by patient and should be evaluated by a physician.
Treating the underlying vein disease or venous insufficiency will stop the leg cramps and aching legs from occurring. At New York Weight Loss & Surgery and New Jersey Weight Loss & Surgery, we use a variety of effective, minimally invasive treatments to close off problematic veins and address venous insufficiency. These include:
If you are troubled by leg pain, make an appointment for a painless, 20-minute ultrasound to assess your vein health. If the ultrasound finds evidence of venous insufficiency, we’ll take steps together to get your veins healthy again.