A lot of people try to balance the question of their health with the following question: is this serious enough to contact the doctor? Sometimes, you’re not sure if you need to worry about certain symptoms, especially if all you really need is a bit of rest or hydration.
Leg cramps can be extremely painful, but most of the time, they do not need more medical care than you can give yourself at home. However, sometimes leg pain can indicate the need for intervention.
Causes of Sudden Leg Pain
Most of the time, the feeling of intense pain in your legs is from muscle cramps or spasms. People often refer to these cramps as charley horses. The muscle contracts and often may not release for several seconds. During the contraction, the pain may escalate or intensify. Charley horses have a number of causes, but the most common reasons for the cramps include:
- Dehydration. When your body is low on fluids, you have a harder time maintaining equilibrium of necessary electrolytes in the blood, especially potassium. Your muscles can spasm as a result. Diuretics like caffeine can make muscle spasms worse.
- Depleted minerals. You might lose potassium, sodium, and magnesium through poor diet choices or through intense physical exertion. Your nerves that signal the muscles to contract depend on these minerals to properly communicate.
- Overuse. Sometimes, your muscles can respond poorly to bad exercise techniques, such as overuse or not properly warming up or cooling down after a workout.
- Reduced blood flow. If you lie still in bed or if you hold your leg at an awkward angle for a long period of time, your muscle might cramp because of low blood flow to the muscle itself.
Usually, a charley horse will pass on its own. You can prevent them by staying hydrated and by making sure you treat your muscles kindly. Stretch after working out, and don’t spend too long sitting in one position.
Sometimes, however, sudden leg pain is not from a charley horse like you might think. A similar sensation of cramping can occur when you have a blood clot in your leg. This condition is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and it does require medical treatment.
The symptoms of DVT are similar to those of a charley horse at first. The pain can be quite sudden, and your muscle might feel tight. You might even have a period of several seconds where the pain is severe before it subsides. However, some additional symptoms can develop that should prompt you to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. These include:
- Redness. A blood clot in your leg can cause inflammation to show on the skin.
- Swelling. Because clots can cause a block in a major blood vessel in the leg, you can have some swelling as blood flow becomes restricted. The leg may also feel warm to the touch.
- Lingering pain. After the initial pain subsides, you will still have pain in your leg, especially with pressure or as you walk. The pain will not usually resolve on its own and may feel like a deep muscle ache.
If you notice these symptoms, go to your nearest urgent care. They can usually diagnose a DVT with a simple ultrasound and give you medications to help resolve the blockage. DVT is dangerous because if more clots form or if the clot moves from your leg, it could cause a heart attack, pulmonary embolism, or a stroke.
Urgent or Emergency Care Responses
Sometimes, you should go to the hospital for blood clots and even leg cramps. If you experience any of the above troubling symptoms, this is often a medical emergency and you should go to the nearest hospital or urgent care center immediately. Stellis Health Urgent Care is available Monday to Thursday from noon to 8pm, Friday from noon to 5pm and weekends and most holidays from 8am to 4 pm.