Why Does My Leg Hurt So Badly After a Leg Cramp?
If you've ever had a leg cramp, you know how painful they can be. Once the muscles finally stop contracting, your leg can continue to hurt for 2-3 days after the attack. This intense pain and the lingering after-effects cause people to search for answers so they can avoid having a cramp in the future. One question I get on a regular basis has to do with why they happen, why they hurt so badly afterward, and what can be done to make them go away.
What Happens During a Leg Cramp
To know what causes a leg cramp, it helps to first understand what's happening in your body during one. With a leg cramp, muscles are involuntarily stimulated to contract. The muscle contraction can last for several minutes and is extremely painful. Blood vessels become pinched by the contracting muscle and this causes an injury to the muscle. The leg cramp lasts for a few minutes and eventually stops once blood flow is cut off to the point that the muscle can no longer constrict.
Although leg cramps and heart attacks are not related, they are similar. Both are the result of reduced blood flow. In a heart attack, reduced blood flow to the heart causes a heart attack. In a leg cramp, reduced blood flow to the leg muscle causes extreme cramping. The medical term for this is called ischemia. Ischemia is the term for restricted or inadequate blood flow to an organ or part of the body.
Why Does It Continue to Hurt?
The leg muscle finally stops contracting because it produces a byproduct called lactic acid. Lactic acid builds up in the muscle tissue and is painful but it also causes the muscle to stop contracting. It burns. This is similar to the feeling after an intense workout. Your muscles are sore the next few days due to a buildup of lactic acid. It's the same after a leg cramp. The area around the cramp is tender to touch for 2-3 days after the leg cramp.
Is There a Connection Between a Leg Cramp and a Vein Condition?
When a leg cramp is the result of a vein condition, the pattern is very specific. Leg cramps or foot cramps always occur in the evening or the night and always interrupt sleep. If yours do, then it is very likely you have a vein reflux problem. If most of your leg cramps occur during the day or when walking, they are likely due to another reason. The good news is that vein treatments help. In fact, I regularly see patients who have suffered from leg cramps for years, and they go away the first night after treatment.
To know if your leg cramps are the result of a vein condition, a vein screening will allow us to review the pattern of your leg cramps which is important in making the diagnosis. We will let you know then if a vein ultrasound is needed to confirm the presence of vein reflux.