Insights into the Symptoms, Causes, and Meanings Behind Leg Cramps

Blog Post
By South Valley Vascular
October 11, 2023

Almost everybody gets leg cramps at some point. Sometimes they hurt, and sometimes they come suddenly and leave just as suddenly. Today we’re going to try and get some more insight into the symptoms, causes, and meanings behind leg cramps.

What Causes Leg Cramps

Leg cramps can happen suddenly and without warning, so what causes leg cramps? There are several common situations that potentially lead to leg cramps.

Stress Levels

Stress can impact our bodies in countless seen and unseen ways. One common symptom of stress is muscle contraction. This is linked to the body’s fight-or-flight response, getting you ready to react at a moment’s notice. However, if contracted unnecessarily, this can lead to a painful cramp.


Sometimes leg cramps are caused by overexertion. Whenever you use your muscles, the muscle needs to expand and contract to get results. However, too many results too quickly or too suddenly can cause a painful cramp. This is especially true for muscles asked to expand mid-contraction or contract mid-expansion, which can lead to painful results.


Your muscles need regular infusions of nutrients and energy to work optimally, including water. Activity while dehydrated can not only cause muscle cramps but make the cramps worse and last longer.

When to Worry About Leg Cramps

Typically, the time when to worry about leg cramps comes after time or home treatments fail to bring results. Most leg cramps will respond to massaging and stretching. Try applying a warm towel or heating pad or massaging the muscle with an ice pack to treat the cramp.

If cramps don’t improve, or become more frequent or more intense over time, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.

Risk of Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

Since leg cramps are potentially so common, it can be easy to ignore them as a potential sign of distress.

One of the most common symptoms of lower-extremity Peripheral Arterial Disease, or PAD, is a painful muscle cramp. Doctors typically call a reoccurring cramp that’s a symptom of PAD claudication.

Claudication happens when the body can’t receive oxygen quickly enough to do needed work, like walking. Unlike a charley horse, a cramp caused by claudication will quickly return as soon as activity is resumed.

It is important not to ignore cramping pain that repeatedly occurs, especially during low-stress activities like walking. This can be an early warning sign of a potentially life-threatening condition.

Treatment Options

In most cases, leg cramps are relatively benign, but recurring and quickly resuming ones may be symptomatic of lower-extremity PAD. Luckily, treating PAD couldn’t be easier. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms while stopping the further progression of the condition. This reduces the risk of a future heart attack or stroke.

Most treatment options for PAD focus on simple lifestyle changes, especially if caught early. If you smoke regularly, you will most likely be asked to quit. Also, eating better and being physically active for 20-30 minutes a day.

In some cases, you may be prescribed a blood pressure control medication or cholesterol or blood thinners to improve circulation. In even more extreme cases, surgery may be required, although this is generally seen as a last resort. Depending on your case and your provider, they may recommend angioplasty, stenting, or even surgical bypass.

It’s estimated, however, that 4% or less of PAD patients require surgical intervention like this.

Experience Leg Cramp Relief with Help from South Valley Vascular

Now that you have some more insight into leg cramps, you can know the best times to seek relief. For leg cramp relief or similar vascular symptoms, you can call on South Valley Vascular for help. South Valley’s Vascular experts will answer any questions you might have, including the potential causes of leg cramps.

Whether your leg cramp is a sign of PAD or just a sign you need to drink water more regularly, we’ll find the answer. Don’t suffer needlessly or let an unexplained leg cramp lead to further complications. Call or schedule your appointment today!