Cramp in the thigh
A thigh cramp is a spontaneous twitching or pulling of the thigh muscles and is usually associated with pain. The spasm can occur continuously for a few seconds to minutes, which is known as a tonic spasm. If the muscles tend to twitch painlessly, this is called clonic muscle spasm.
The thigh cramp has various causes. A common reason is a disturbance in the electrolyte balance, particularly due to an imbalance in the electrolytes magnesium and / or calcium. Overloading often leads to cramps in the thighs and lower legs. If the thigh cramp occurs regularly, treatment should be given depending on the cause.
The muscles are subject to many different metabolic processes and a constant balance of various electrolytes such as magnesium, calcium and potassium, hormones and other messenger substances. Not only a magnesium deficiency or sporting activity can disrupt muscle function and lead to cramps, hormonal and neurological symptoms can also be responsible for this.
In addition to magnesium, the potassium or calcium levels are also relevant for an intact muscle function. The underlying causes of such mineral or electrolyte shifts are manifold. Examples are malnutrition, alcohol abuse, gastrointestinal inflammation, circulatory disorders or endurance sports. Diseases such as diabetes mellitus or thyroid dysfunction can also lead to cramps in the thighs due to electrolyte changes.
In addition, excessive strain caused by too strenuous training or training that is unfamiliar to the muscles can cause cramps. In addition, incorrect loading can also be the reason for a cramp in the thigh. On the other hand, cramps can also occur in patients who do not exercise or who sit a lot at their desks. This can lead to insufficient muscular stress, which causes cramps.
A lack of fluids, which in extreme cases leads to dehydration (exsicosis), can be caused, for example, by excessive sweating or insufficient fluid intake. This can also lead to cramps in the muscles. Increased alcohol consumption can also cause cramps in the thigh muscles, among other things. Insufficient blood supply to the leg can also result in a cramp in the thigh.
A combination of electrolyte shifts and hormonal changes, as well as age-related muscle shortening, lead to cramps in the muscles more often in old age. However, muscle cramps can also occur as a side effect of medication. When taking so-called diuretics (Diuretics) there is a loss of fluids and electrolytes, which can lead to cramps. Also Statins (like simvastatin), which lower blood cholesterol, can cause muscle cramps as a side effect.
If these causes cannot be the trigger for the spasms, numerous neurological clinical pictures come into consideration that lead to disorders of nerve conduction and muscular innervation and, in addition to muscle paralysis or spasticity, can also trigger unpleasant paresthesia, cramps and other symptoms. These diseases can affect the nerves going to the thigh, on the spine, in the spinal canal or even in the brain.
Read more on the topic:
- You can recognize a magnesium deficiency by these symptoms
- Cause of cramps
- Potassium deficiency
Cramps despite magnesium
A magnesium deficiency is just one of many possible causes of muscle cramps in the thigh.
If a magnesium deficiency is ruled out or if the symptoms persist despite increased magnesium intake, other possible triggers must be diagnostically excluded. To this end, a blood test can first be carried out to identify the most important changes in the electrolyte. In many cases, the symptoms subside by themselves. Otherwise, a comprehensive diagnosis should be initiated under medical guidance, which also includes imaging procedures such as an X-ray or CT image of the spine to prevent nerve damage, e.g. to exclude by a herniated disc. For further clarification, orthopedists or neurologists can be involved in the diagnosis and treatment, depending on the suspected diagnosis.
More information on this topic: Cramps despite taking magnesium - what can you do?
Herniated disc of the lumbar spine
A herniated disc in the lumbar spine is a common cause of muscular problems in the legs.
Typically, the herniated disc occurs at an advanced age as a result of long-term degenerative changes in the intervertebral discs. A tear in the outer ring of the intervertebral disc can cause acute pain in the spine and compressions on the spinal cord and the exiting nerves. This leads to tingling and numbness, but also to muscle pain, cramps in the thigh and muscle weakness, as well as paralysis. The latter may have to be treated surgically in order to immediately relieve the pressure-endangered nerves.
More on this: Symptoms of a herniated disc of the lumbar spine
Cramps after drinking alcohol
People who consume alcohol regularly may have more frequent calf cramps. This can have several long-term or short-term causes.
First of all, acute alcohol consumption leads to a change in the electrolyte balance. Acute shifts of different salts and an increased loss of water can occur. This can trigger cramps in the thigh after a single consumption of alcohol.
In the long term, alcohol consumption can have a negative effect on nutrition and lead to vitamin deficiencies through various processes, which in turn lead to malfunctioning of the muscles. Prolonged severe alcohol abuse can also cause neurological damage and degeneration of nerves, which in turn causes painful cramps.
More information on this topic:
- Alcohol addiction
- Consequences of alcohol
The diagnosis of muscle spasm is mainly made by a anamnese posed. The patient describes the symptoms to the doctor, who will quickly conclude that there is a cramp. Here you can also access a Possible Cause closed if the patient does a lot of sport, for example.
If the thigh cramp is described, the doctor will contact you physical exam also look at the patient's legs in order to identify any external abnormalities. To a Electrolyte disorder to find or rule out a cause should be a Blood count be made. A deficiency in the respective electrolytes can be determined here. Often, however, there is no clear cause of the cramps.
If a spasm occurs in the muscles, it is usually associated with very severe pain. This is an unwanted (involuntary) Tensing the muscles. This tension is described as a sudden pulling, stabbing, or twitching.
The muscle cramps between a few seconds to several minutes and feels hard and firm during the cramp phase. If the cramp is localized in the thigh, it is usually not felt all over the thigh. Only individual muscle groups cramp so that the cramp is felt either on the inside, front, outside, or back. When the cramp is over, the muscle relaxes again and becomes softer.
Occurrence of the cramp on the inside of the thigh
The thigh muscle consists of various individual muscles that are used depending on which movement is performed.
The muscles on the inside of the thigh are also known as adductors and cause the leg to be pulled towards the inside of the other leg (so-called Adduction). A cramp in the inside of the thigh usually manifests itself as pain and can result from overstressing this muscle group. For example, the adductors are stressed when riding or inline skating. If these sports have not been practiced regularly, this can become strenuous for this muscle group and cramps can occur during the performance of the sport or afterwards. Often a cramp in the adductors of the thigh occurs during or after cycling. A cramp on the inside of the thigh is favored by electrolyte imbalances or insufficient fluid intake.
Posterior thigh cramp
During the hamstring spasm, involuntary and spontaneous tension in the muscles occurs.
It occurs increasingly during or after exercise and at night. Stretches (trying to touch your toes while standing with your knees straight) can help prevent cramps in this area.
Occurrence in connection with cycling
A cramp in the thigh is not uncommon after a long training session on the bike. The cramp usually arises from overexertion of the insufficiently developed muscles. As a result, cramps on the inside of the thigh are more common in this sport. The inner thigh muscles are only slightly stressed when cycling and are therefore usually underdeveloped. When the muscles are overloaded, the corresponding muscles become cramped.
Muscle cramps are particularly likely to occur if there is an electrolyte imbalance or if you did not drink enough during exercise. One can prevent cramps, especially the cramps on the inside, by cycling from time to time while standing and thus also training the inside of the thigh. As with any sport, there should be adequate stretching and fluid intake.
Occurrence of cramps at night
Most people are familiar with the fact that cramps can occur suddenly at night and last up to a few minutes with pain. Why cramps often occur at night is not physiologically clear. However, if the night cramps occur regularly, a cause should be looked for and treated. Nocturnal cramps in the thigh can also be caused by the same trigger during the day.
For example, if the thigh is heavily used during the day, a reaction to the overload usually only occurs at night in the form of a cramp in the thigh. Also, at night, a cramp in the thigh can only be triggered by a wrong or unfavorable sleeping position. However, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, muscle shortening and muscle breakdown can also cause cramps in the thighs while sleeping.
For more information on muscle cramps that occur at night, see Nocturnal muscle cramps
Cramps in pregnancy
A cramp in the thigh, calf, or even foot during pregnancy is not uncommon and should not be a cause for concern.
The muscle cramps often occur at night and are often caused by the unfamiliar muscle strain caused by the child's weight gain. In addition, circulatory problems and a lack of minerals and vitamins can be the reason for the cramp in the thigh during pregnancy. In order to prevent the recurrence of muscle cramps, a balanced diet should be observed. Since a magnesium deficiency is often to blame for cramps in the thigh, magnesium can be taken in the form of tablets. Adequate exercise and gentle stretching of the thighs can also help alleviate the discomfort.
For more information on this topic, see
- Cramps during pregnancy
- Diet in Pregnancy
Cramps and back pain
Back pain is the main symptom of numerous diseases of the spine.
Common complaints here are herniated discs, degenerative changes in the spine and vertebral body fractures. In any case, the sensitive nerve structures and the spinal cord at the level of the affected vertebrae are at risk. Irritation of the nerves can lead to so-called radicular symptoms radiating to the legs and feet. This can affect sensitive sensations in the form of tingling, pain or numbness, but also motor functions through muscle cramps and paralysis.
Also read: Nerve root irritation
Pain after the cramp
If the pain persists after a cramp, this is initially not a cause for concern. Since the cramp is only an involuntary strong muscle activity, it can lead to sore muscles. This typically occurs after a day and does not last longer than 3-4 days.
Severe persistent pain, even when the muscle is relieved, can in turn indicate diseases of the nerves. If the sensitive nerves are damaged or stressed in the course, it can lead to radiating, pulling pain along the nerve course. Herniated discs or other spinal disorders are common triggers of these symptoms.
Other accompanying symptoms
The accompanying symptoms of a thigh cramp can be numerous and vary widely with the underlying conditions.
Typical local symptoms are pain in the muscles and muscle weakness in the affected muscle during the cramp event. In addition, unpleasant sensations such as tingling and even numbness of the thigh or the entire leg can occur. In severe cases, this can be followed by paralysis and restricted movement of the muscles, in which the muscle can appear slack or spastic.
The often underlying shifts in the mineral and electrolyte balance can be associated with numerous, sometimes life-threatening symptoms. Initially, paresthesia or muscle complaints can be felt on the entire body, later it can also lead to cardiac arrhythmias.
Also read: Paralysis in the leg
Immediate therapy and prophylaxis
During the cramp phase, gentle massages of the cramping muscles or stretching the muscle can end the cramp prematurely. To counteract a possible cause of the thigh cramp, the patient can try a few things to see if there is any improvement.
Regardless of the cause and whether or not there are any muscle cramps, you should ensure you drink enough fluids every day. Furthermore, minerals can be taken in the form of dietary supplements, such as magnesium or calcium in tablet form, which should provide relief from an electrolyte disorder.
Patients who have started exercising again after a long period of rest should take care not to overuse their muscles. After exercising, trained and untrained people should ensure sufficient stretching of the muscles. In this way, firstly, relaxation is achieved and secondly, it prevents the muscles from shortening.
However, if the cramps occur regularly and home remedies cannot help, you should see a doctor who can examine more closely whether there is a possible electrolyte imbalance. The doctor can also establish a possible connection between cramps and medication taken.
A final but controversial possibility for cramps that have no identifiable cause is quinine sulfate (quinine). Quinine is a prescription drug that is actually used to treat malaria. But it also has an antispasmodic effect and is therefore prescribed - in a much lower dose than for malaria treatment - for non-treatable muscle spasms. Since this remedy has many side effects, the options must definitely be discussed with the treating doctor.
Read more about this: Leg cramps - what works best? such as Prevent cramps
Here is an example of an anterior hamstring stretching exercise:
In the prone position, the knee is bent until the foot or ankle can be reached with the hands. With the hands the foot is now pulled further towards the head. This exercise can also be done for prevention. In this case, the exercise can be done while standing. There should be a slight tugging felt at the front of the thigh.
Here is an example of a hamstring stretch exercise:
In the supine position, the affected leg is pulled towards the upper body. The knee should remain in a straight alignment. The thighs are held close to the knee with the hands and pulled even further towards the upper body. The more stretched the knee and the closer the knee comes to the chest, the more stretch there is. This muscle group can also be stretched while standing. The two feet are placed next to each other. Keep your knees straight. Try to touch the toes or the ground with your fingertips. The smaller the distance between the fingers, the greater the stretch. The heels must not be lifted off. Of course, these exercises can also be used preventively.
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Magnesium intake can help in some cases and prevent further seizures (especially during pregnancy). Nevertheless, according to studies, the effect is controversial in relation to muscle cramps.
A balanced diet covers your daily needs. There is a lot of magnesium in nuts, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds and whole grain products, for example. Adults need 375 mg daily. However, under certain circumstances, for example, during pregnancy or during stressful phases, the need may be increased.
Magnesium is available in various forms (effervescent tablets, capsules, tablets) from pharmacies and drugstores.
Quinine can also be used for prophylaxis. However, this requires a prescription and can cause serious side effects. Low amounts of quinine are found in tonic water and bitter lemon.
How long does a thigh cramp last?
The involuntary and painful cramping of the thigh muscles can last a few seconds or even several minutes. The cramps occur mainly at night or during or after heavy stress on the muscle group. In addition, this can occur as a one-off incident because you may have strained your muscles that day. Or there is regular cramping of the muscles, as is the case with an electrolyte disorder. If the thigh cramp occurs regularly, a doctor should be consulted who will identify the cause and treat accordingly. Usually, cramps caused by a magnesium deficiency, for example, disappear after a few days to a few weeks after taking supplementary magnesium.
Magnesium is not having any effect on you? Read here how you should proceed Cramps despite magnesium