Cramp in the thigh


A cramp in the thigh is a spontaneously occurring twitching or pulling in the thigh muscles and is usually associated with pain. The cramp can occur continuously for a few seconds to minutes, which is called tonic cramp. If a painless twitching of the musculature is more likely to occur, this is called a clonic muscle spasm.

The cramp in the thigh has various causes. A common reason is a disturbance in the electrolyte balance, especially due to an imbalance in the electrolytes magnesium and/or calcium. It is not uncommon for overstrain to lead to cramps in the upper and lower leg. If the cramp in the thigh occurs regularly, treatment should be given depending on the cause.

Possible causes

The muscles are subject to many different metabolic processes and a constant balance of various electrolytes such as magnesium, calcium and potassium, hormones and other messenger substances. It is not only a magnesium deficiency or sporting activities that can disrupt muscle function and lead to cramps; hormonal and neurological clinical pictures can also be primarily responsible for this. In addition to magnesium, potassium or calcium levels are also relevant for intact muscle function.

The underlying causes of such mineral or electrolyte shifts are manifold. Examples are malnutrition, alcohol abuse, gastrointestinal inflammation, circulatory disorders or endurance sports. Diseases such as diabetes mellitus or thyroid dysfunction can also lead to cramps in the thigh due to electrolyte shifts.

Furthermore, overstraining by training that is too strenuous or unusual for the muscles can cause cramps. In addition, incorrect loading can also be the cause of cramps in the thigh. Again, cramps can also occur in patients who do not exercise or sit at a desk a lot.

This can then lead to muscular understrain, which causes cramps. A lack of fluid, which in extreme cases leads to dehydration (exsicosis), can be caused by excessive sweating or insufficient fluid intake, for example. This can also lead to cramps in the muscles.

Increased alcohol consumption can also cause cramps in the thigh muscles, among others. An insufficient blood supply to the leg can also cause cramps in the thigh. An interplay of electrolyte shift and hormone changes, as well as age-related muscle shortening, lead to cramps in the muscles more often in old age.

However, muscle cramps can also occur as a side effect of medication. When so-called diuretics are taken, there is a loss of fluid and electrolytes, which can promote cramps. Statins (such as simvastatin), which lower blood cholesterol levels, can also cause muscle cramps as a side effect.

If these causes are eliminated as triggers for the cramps, numerous neurological clinical pictures come into consideration, which lead to disturbances of nerve conduction and muscular innervation and can trigger unpleasant sensations, cramps and other symptoms in addition to muscle paralysis or spasticity. These diseases can affect the nerves in the course of the thigh, the spine, the spinal canal or even already in the brain. A magnesium deficiency is only one of many possible causes of muscle cramps in the thigh.

If a magnesium deficiency is ruled out or the symptoms persist despite increased magnesium intake, other possible triggers must be diagnostically excluded. For this purpose, a blood test can first be performed to identify the most important electrolyte changes. In many cases, the symptoms subside by themselves over time.

Otherwise, a complete diagnostic procedure should be initiated under medical supervision, which also includes imaging procedures such as an X-ray or CT image of the spine to rule out nerve damage, e.g. from a herniated disc. For further clarification, orthopedists or neurologists can be involved in the diagnosis and treatment depending on the suspected diagnosis. A herniated disc of the lumbar spine is a common cause of muscular complaints of the legs.

Typically, the herniated disc occurs at an advanced age as a result of many years of degenerative changes in the intervertebral discs.A tear in the outer ring of the intervertebral disc can cause acute pain in the spine and compression of the spinal cord and exiting nerves. This can lead to tingling and numbness but also to muscle pain, cramps in the thigh and muscle weakness, as well as paralysis. The latter may have to be treated surgically in order to relieve the pressure on the nerves that are in danger of pressure immediately.

Persons who regularly consume alcohol may be more frequently affected by calf cramps. This can have several long-term or short-term causes. Firstly, acute alcohol consumption leads to a change in the electrolyte balance.

Acutely it can lead to shifts in various salts and increased loss of water. This can cause cramps in the thigh after a single consumption of alcohol. In the long term, alcohol consumption can have a negative influence on the diet and lead to vitamin deficiencies via various processes, which in turn cause malfunctions of the muscles. Severe alcohol abuse over a long period of time can also cause neurological damage and nerve degeneration, which in turn causes painful cramps.