Muscle pain, spasms and cramping in the back of legs can develop for a variety of reasons. Simply straining the muscles can cause discomfort between the thighs and calves. In some cases medical conditions may lead to muscle aches or sharp pain in the back of upper legs and behind the knees.
A muscle spasm, commonly referred to as a charley horse, may occur due to injury or overuse. Exercising when your body is deficient in calcium, potassium or other minerals or when dehydrated can make you more prone to muscle spasms and cramping. Fluids allow your muscles to tighten and relax more effortlessly, the Mayo Clinic explains.
Muscle cramps typically strike the back of the lower calf, or gastrocnemius, back of the thigh, or hamstrings, and the front of the upper leg, known as the quadriceps. When a muscle is in spasm, it tightens uncontrollably and refuses to relax, the MedlinePlus online medical encyclopedia notes. Muscle spasms are generally harmless.
Peripheral artery disease is a common circulatory condition that causes cramp-like pains or contractions in your calf, thigh or hip muscles when the arteries that send blood to your legs become obstructed. Discomfort usually subsides when you rest your legs, the Mayo Clinic reports.
Fibromyalgia can cause intense muscle aches and shooting pain in various areas of the body, including the thighs. Fibromyalgia is typically accompanied by headaches, fatigue and sleep disturbances.
Placing heat on a muscle spasm can help diminish discomfort. Ice packs may provide additional comfort once the initial pain has subsided. Stretching and massaging the affected muscle can also provide relief. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin and ibuprofen can also help decrease pain. Your doctor can prescribe anti-spasm medications in severe cases.
Peripheral artery disease can often be treated by making healthy lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and eating a nutritious diet, the Mayo Clinic advises. Medications to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol may also help.
Fibromyalgia patients may benefit from physical as well as behavioral therapy, reports MedlinePlus. Muscle relaxants and antidepressant medications may also help relieve symptoms in some cases.
Stretching your legs before exercising may help thigh pain. Stretching before bedtime may help prevent leg cramps while you sleep, the Mayo Clinic suggests. Contact your doctor if muscle cramps are severe or persistent.