What Causes Inner Thigh Cramps, and How to Prevent Them

A cramp on the inside of your thigh during a workout could happen because of muscle fatigue.
Image Credit: Sorapop/iStock/GettyImages

Cramps can occur just about anywhere on your legs, including your inner thigh. They arrive unexpectedly and fast, causing painful, involuntary contractions and spasms in your muscles.

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If you've had a leg cramp, then you're familiar with the sensation, which can range from mild pulsing to intensely painful contractions, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). While these muscle spasms pass quickly (in seconds, typically), they can sometimes occur in waves, repeating several times before fully resolving, per the AAOS.

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Here's what you need to know about why cramps occur, how to handle them and perhaps most importantly, steps you can take to prevent them.

Who Gets Inner Thigh Cramps?

In a word: Everyone.

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The Cleveland Clinic characterizes leg cramps as being both "common" and "normal." But certain people are more prone to muscle cramps, including the following, according to the Mayo Clinic, National Library of Medicine (NLM) and sports medicine specialist Farah Hameed, MD, assistant professor of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at Columbia University Medical Center:

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  • Pregnant people
  • Athletes, due to muscle fatigue
  • Older adults, due to a loss of muscle mass
  • People who don't regularly exercise or stretch
  • People with certain medical conditions, including diabetes

Dehydration is also a risk factor for leg cramps, per the Mayo Clinic.

It's more common to experience muscle cramps (sometimes called a "charley horse") in the front or back of the thigh as well as the lower leg or calf, but cramps on the inner part of your thigh or near your groin are possible, too, according to the AAOS.

These cramps can hit in the middle of the night, says Naimish Baxi, MD, physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery, or they may occur mid-activity, such as during a jog.

Causes of Leg Cramps

There are many potential causes of upper thigh cramps, but often, the cause is unknown, Dr. Hameed says.

Some of the factors that can lead to leg cramps include the following, according to AAOS:

  • Not stretching enough and poor conditioning
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Working out in the heat
  • Dehydration
  • Depletion of electrolytes (this can be due to medications)

Sitting or sleeping in a strange position can also lead to leg cramps, Dr. Baxi says.

Plus, while leg cramps are often benign, they can also be associated with certain medical conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes and peripheral artery diseases, per the Mayo Clinic.

Possible Causes of Inner Thigh Pain

There’s a difference between a short-term cramp and lasting inner thigh pain.

If you’re feeling pain in your leg, it could be due to a muscle strain or tear, or a variety of other reasons. For instance, kidney stones can cause pain that radiates to your inner thigh, per Beth Israel Lahey Health. In your outer thigh, burning pain could be a sign of a condition called meralgia paresthetica, according to the Mayo Clinic. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) doesn’t always have symptoms, but it can cause leg pain, too, per the Mayo Clinic.

If the pain in your thigh lasts longer than a few minutes, make an appointment with your doctor.

How to Treat Leg Cramps

There are a slew of leg cramp home remedies — many of them similar to remedies for restless legs — purported to help ease the brief agony, but these are the top three supported by doctors:

1. Stretch

Dr. Hameed's top recommendation is to gradually and gently stretch the affected area until the spasm subsides.

2. Heat Therapy

Applying warmth (think: a hot bath or a heating pad) can also be helpful, Dr. Baxi says.

3. Wait It Out

Most of all, time is on your side. Before you can even prep to treat a cramp, it may have already passed, because they're often over in seconds.

How to Prevent Leg Cramps

Here, some of the methods that can help prevent inner thigh cramps in the first place:

  • Stay hydrated:​ Making sure you're properly hydrated is one of the first things to try, Dr. Hameed says. While the amount of fluids you need depends on many factors, including your age and sex, you likely should be drinking between 11.5 and 15.5 cups of water a day, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Get plenty of vitamins and minerals:​ You may have heard that you should treat leg cramps with potassium, but eating a banana mid-spasm won't do much. Cramps can be triggered by an electrolyte imbalance, though, so eating a diet rich in potassium and other vitamins and minerals (found in whole foods like fruits and vegetables) is a good way to prevent muscle cramps.
  • Stretch:​ Before workouts, stretch — particularly in the areas where you often get cramps, per the AAOS. So, if you tend toward inner thigh cramps, you may benefit from quad stretches or hamstring stretches. For middle-of-the-night cramps, stretching before bed can be a really good preventative tactic, Dr. Hameed says. People who do not exercise can also benefit from stretching, she says.
  • Do a light workout before bed:​ A little nighttime stretching or low-key exercise may help with nocturnal leg cramps, per the Cleveland Clinic. Try riding an exercise bike before bed, per the Mayo Clinic.
  • Keep an eye on your position:​ If you're a leg crosser, try avoiding that position to see if it affects the frequency of the leg cramps. Plus, keep an eye on how you sleep — keep the bedding loose around your legs, and use pillows to keep your toes facing up, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (Stomach sleepers: let your feet dangle off the bottom of the bed, per the Cleveland Clinic.)

When to See a Doctor

Two key features of most leg cramps: They're fleeting and harmless, per the NLM.

But as noted, they can be a potential indicator of a serious problem. If thigh cramps are severe, frequent and long-lasting, reach out to your health care provider, per the NLM. You should also see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms along with cramping, per the Mayo Clinic:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Leg swelling
  • Redness or skin changes

If home remedies, changes to your workout routine or hydration don't ease the situation, that's another good reason to check in with your health care provider.

Your doctor can help ensure you get the appropriate lab work, check if any medications could be triggering cramps and ensure you do not have an underlying medical condition, Dr. Hameed says.

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references

Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.