You may not be too concerned about your leg cramps if you just spent the weekend working on your yard. While exercise and heavy labor are common causes of leg cramps, an underlying health condition can also lead to discomfort in your legs and should be taken seriously and checked out.
At Advanced Vein & Laser Center, we specialize in vascular problems, and our specialists, Dr. Steven Heird and Dr. David Winand, want you to know when your leg cramps may mean more than just too much exercise.
1. It hurts more when you’re going upstairs
You may not be too surprised to have a difficult time walking up the stairs after your weekend mud run. But if you have leg pain when you’re walking or climbing the stairs that disappears after a few minutes of rest, you may have a blood flow issue caused by narrowed or clogged arteries, which is a condition called peripheral artery disease (PAD).
The leg cramps caused by PAD are referred to as claudication and the pain can be mild or so severe it may keep you from doing the things you enjoy. In many cases, PAD is an indication of underlying atherosclerosis, which is the narrowing or hardening of your arteries caused by the accumulation of fatty deposits, and is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
2. Your legs don’t look right
Leg cramps accompanied by changes in the way your leg looks may also indicate an underlying health issue that you need to take seriously, such as venous insufficiency. You may develop venous insufficiency if your veins can’t push the blood back to your heart and lungs for oxygenation due to weakened vessel walls or damaged valves.
With venous insufficiency you may notice that your legs are leathery, dry, or itchy. You may also notice the development of varicose veins or a cut that just doesn’t want to heal.
PAD also affects the look of your legs, and may cause them to change color or appear shiny. And without enough blood flow, PAD may also limit hair and toenail growth.
3. You have swelling with your leg cramps
It’s not abnormal for your legs to feel achy and tired after you’ve been standing on them all day. But if your achiness is accompanied by swelling, especially at the lower part of your legs and ankles, it may be a sign of venous insufficiency. If your veins are weak or damaged, pushing your blood against gravity back to your heart can be difficult and lead to fluid pooling in your lower extremities.
4. Your muscles feel weak
Leg cramps and muscle weakness due to exercise or heavy labor usually disappear within a few days. But if your leg cramps and muscle weakness continue long after you should’ve recovered from your workout, then it may be a sign of PAD. Without proper blood supply, your muscles aren’t getting the nutrients they need, which can result in weakness.
With PAD, you may also experience numbness or tingling, or notice that one leg feels cooler than the other.
5. You have leg cramps for no known reason
Leg cramps that develop without any known reason should be checked out, especially if they don’t go away on their own after a few days of self-care. While it’s not abnormal to get muscle cramps because you skipped your morning banana, these pains usually go away on their own. But if your pain lingers or worsens, we can evaluate your veins and arteries to see if it has anything to do with your blood circulation.
Depending on the cause of your leg cramps, we can develop a treatment plan that improves both blood flow and health.
To have your leg cramps evaluated by vascular specialists, call Advanced Vein & Laser Center today.