"Got Charlie Horse" - #cramps in calf may be more than potassium!

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Cramps in one or both of your calfs may be caused by a large range of problems. Calf cramping should be investigated by a trained health professional. Most of my patients seem to think that their calf pain is from potassium deficiency and eat bananas - this is fairly rare. Nonetheless, people will eat a banana and their calf pain will subside, or they think so. The last patient that was so sure that her calf pain was cured by eating bananas had a blood clot (deep vain thrombosis)!!  

Here are some of my top considerations when investigating calf pain:

This list is by no means comprehensive

Medications: Some medicines can cause cramps as a side-effect, or make cramps occur more often. There are dozens or perhaps hundreds of medications that can cause calf pain.

Exercise: Over-exertion of muscles producing strain, sprain or tare.

Hydration: Dehydration can cause muscle spasm and shortening of muscles and pain.

Health Problems: Conditions that cause alterations in the balance of salts in the bloodstream (such as a high or low sodium or potassium level).

Dialysis: Some people who have kidney (renal) dialysis get leg cramps.

Pregnancy – Can cause mineral deficiencies or dilution of minerals in the circulation to the calves causing cramps. Hormonal issues and fluid accumulation in the calves can cause pain.

Hormonal: Under or overactive thyroid disease can cause calf pain.

Vascular: Peripheral artery disease (narrowing of the leg arteries which causes poor circulation).

Central spinal stenosis or peripheral spinal stenosis.

Venous Insufficiency causing accumulation of fluid in the legs and calves: sometimes secondary to thrombosis (clots): these clots can make there way into the lungs causing a serious condition known as pulmonary infarction and can travel into the brain causing stroke/death and/or serious brain damage.

Alcohol Intake: Excess alcohol can cause malabsorption of vitamins B1, B12, magnesium and others causing calf pain.

Nerve Disease: Some uncommon disorders of nerves.

Heavy metal poisioning such as mercury, lead, cadium and toxins such as arsenic.

Idiopathic – There are thousands of health problems that may cause cramps in the calves including many autoimmune diseases.

Nutritional deficiencies including, but not limited to, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, essential fatty acids, excess vitamin D, etc.

Hundreds of causes exist that can cause calf pain in one or more calves. It's important not to neglect chronic or acute calf pain. I could go into much more regarding the physical examination and tests that would help to rule in or out serious causes, but I cannot risk misinterpretation of these evaluations. Please seek the help of a qualified health professional if you suffer from sudden onset calf pain or chronic (ongoing) pain or discomfort.

Thank you.

Dr. Michael Wald, DC

Integrated Medicine of Mount Kisco

495 E. Main Street

Mount Kisco, NY 10549