Whether they occur at night, after working out, or during pregnancy, leg muscle cramps are usually painful. They typically affect the calf muscles, but can occur in any part of the leg, including the feet and thighs. Read on how to get rid of leg cramps.
What Causes Leg Cramps?
Before discussing how to get rid of leg cramps, how about pinpointing some likely causes?
Also referred to as charley horse, cramps are sudden, involuntary contractions – or spams – of a single muscle or group of muscles that cause mild to severe pain. According to the WebMD, Leg cramps usually occur in the calf of your legs but any other part of the leg may be affected, including the thigh and feet. Three-quarter of all cases of feet and leg cramps occur at night as the UK National Health Service (NHS) notes and can affect the elderly and the young alike. The contractions last anywhere between a few seconds and a few minutes.
Among the most common causes of leg cramps are listed below:
- Dehydration: According to the WebMD, leg cramps can result when you lose too much body fluids.
- Sitting inappropriately for a long time
- Over-use of leg muscles from working out, running, swimming and other sporting This is one of the most common reasons for leg cramps in athletes.
- Pregnancy: According to the American Pregnancy Association, pregnant women may get leg and feet cramps as a result of several factors including weight gain and blood flow changes, and exertion of pressure on leg nerves and blood vessels. The WebMD says that pregnancy cramps are due to decreased calcium and magnesium, particularly in the last semester of pregnancy.
- Standing on hard floors for a long time
- Certain medicationsg. steroids, diuretics, and statins (used to reduce cholesterol in the blood) can also cause leg and feet cramps.
- Liver disease: According to the UK National Health Service, liver disease may also cause muscle cramps in the legs.
- Exposure to cold temperaturesg. cold water.
How to Get Rid Of Leg Cramps – Home Remedies to Treat Leg Muscle Cramps at Night, During Pregnancy, After Working Out
Unless the legs cramps very severe or very recurrent, you will be fine with simple home remedies such as exercises and adequate hydration. If other symptoms are observed, however, it is advisable to see your doctor to rule out the prospect of an underlying condition. In such cases, the doctor will prescribe appropriate medication and/or other treatments.
With that said, here is how to get rid of leg cramps at home:
Exercise the Calf Muscles
Stretching the calf muscles helps to get rid of leg cramps by easing the spasms. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends stretching your leg so that it is fully straight and then pointing your toes up towards body. This will help to stretch the calf muscles. Keep your leg in that position until the symptoms of leg cramps go away. To prevent nighttime leg cramps (nocturnal leg cramps), do this stretching exercise before sleeping (going to bed).
The UK National Health Service on the other hand suggests stretching your calf muscles as follows:
- Stand with your heel held on to the edge of a step and the front part of your leg resting on the lower step.
- Now lower your heel slowly down so that your foot is at a lower level and hold on to this position for a few seconds before moving your feet back to the original position.
- Do this severally to treat leg cramps.
Massage the Affected Muscles
According to the Sports Injury Clinic, massaging the affected legs or feet helps to ease muscle spasms (tension) and pain while boosting the flow of blood into these muscles.
As for how to get rid of leg muscles with massage, simply rub the affected area gently with your fingertips until you get a relief from the cramps.
Take Pain Relieving Medication
It is common for leg cramps to be associated with significant pain and tenderness. This may last for a few hours after the muscle cramp has stopped.
The WebMD recommends relieving the pain with some over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil etc.), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and Naproxen (Aleve). For leg cramps during pregnancy, use acetaminophen.
Apply Hot or Cold Compress
If I had to choose the easiest and safest home remedies for leg cramps be it during pregnancy at night, after working out, name it, then this would at the top of my list.
According to The Cleveland Clinic, both hot and cold compresses can help leg cramps. Cool compress work by reducing the pain while relaxing the muscles and warm compresses work by relaxing the tightened muscle.
For cool compress, hold an ice pack (ice cubes wrapped in a towel) to the affected area of your leg. A washcloth that has been dipped in cold water will as well work fine if you don’t have ice cubes.
As for warm compress, simply dip a washcloth in warm water, wring it to get rid of the excess water, and then place it on the affected leg muscle. A warm shower is as well helpful.
In the book, “The Doctors Book of Home Remedies II”, Patrice Morency recommends using acupressure to stop leg cramps. This remedy is popular among athletes. As for how to get rid of leg cramps with this technique, simply pinch and squeeze your bottom lip – yes the lip – between your fingers for about 30 seconds.
Increase Your Fluid Intake
Dehydration due to factors such as excessive sweating (due to sporting activities or workouts for example), diarrhea, kidney problems etc. is a common cause of leg cramps.
Drinking plenty of fluids such as water, sports drinks e.g. Gatorade, soups, juices, tea etc. will help to rehydrate your skin and thus get rid of leg cramps. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends taking a rehydration solution if you take part in sporting activities during hot weather conditions as a way to help stop and prevent leg and feet cramps caused by loss of minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Take Supplements for Leg Cramps Removal
Nutritional supplements can as well help to ease and stop leg cramps. Vitamin E may be particularly helpful. Calcium and magnesium supplements may also help muscle cramps.
The WebMD suggests taking multivitamin supplements daily to treat and prevent muscle cramps in legs.
Preventing Leg Cramps
Now that you know how to get rid of leg cramps, what about preventing future cases of this painful condition? Here are a few lifestyle tips and home remedies to prevent leg cramps:
- Drink plenty of water and other fluids: You will know you are having adequate water if your urine is clear to light yellow in color.
- Stay away from alcoholic beverages
- Increase your intake of foods that are rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium: This is especially important if you are pregnant.
- Stretch your muscles frequently: You will especially want to stretch the muscles before sleeping and after exercise.
- Sleep properly: For nighttime leg cramps adjust your sleeping positions and patterns appropriately. If you lie on your back, keep the toe upright – a pillow at the end of your bed may help you do this. If you lie on your stomach, hang your feet at the edge of your bed to keep the leg muscles relaxed. It is also advisable to untuck the beddings to allow free leg movement.
- Take multivitamin supplements: This will help to get rid of and prevent leg cramps due to loss of nutrients.