Quick Tips To Help With Cramping Legs
Leg cramps causes, leg cramps treatment, and ways to prevent leg cramps. We tell you everything that would help you make sure you never limp around in leg cramps pain ever again.Raise your hand if you’ve woken up at least once in your life with a night-time leg cramp. Preferably screaming in pain. Ok, now that my schadenfreude tendencies are out of the way, let’s break this down – what are muscle cramps, what causes them, and what you can do.
Muscle cramps are spasms, or the sudden and involuntary contraction and tightening of muscles, often in the leg. They can last from a few seconds to a few minutes, and can range from mild to extreme on the pain and discomfort scale. You might also see and/or feel a hard lump where the muscle has contracted. Night-time spasms usually happen in the calves (where it’s called a charley horse) or hamstrings, although they have been known to occur in the feet and other muscles as well.
Let’s understand the causes of leg cramps and then move on to tips that could help treat them, as well as prevent them.
What causes leg cramps?
Leg cramps can be caused by:
- Dehydration is one of the major causes of muscle cramps. Muscle cramps are often caused due to depletion of minerals and electrolytes. When the body is dehydrated it is less efficient in processing of minerals. This causes cramping in muscles.
- Excessive and vigorous exercising, especially in hot weather could also lead to muscle cramps. Well, this too happens because of loss of minerals due to sweating. That’s why it’s recommended to keep consuming fluids while working out or playing sports.
- Pregnancy, especially if the levels of calcium or magnesium are low. These minerals help in the smooth functioning of the muscles.
- Cold temperatures, especially chilled water and air conditioners.
- Injury, trauma, or overuse of muscles.
- Sitting or standing in the same position for a long time, or keeping legs in an awkward position.
- Lack of certain minerals, such as calcium and potassium could cause cramping of legs.
- Medical conditions such as kidney disease, liver disease, thyroid problems, multiple sclerosis, and peripheral arterial disease could also make you prone to muscle cramps.
- Certain medications, such as diuretics (prescribed for blood pressure patients, amongst others), birth control pills, steroids and statins (prescribed for those with high cholesterol levels) could have side effects that include muscle cramps.
- Neurological conditions, such as lumbar stenosis and peripheral neuropathy.
- Flat feet and alcoholism can also cause leg cramps.
How can you treat muscle cramps?
The pain caused by leg cramps might feel bad enough to kill you, but they can be treated through natural ways. Here are home remedies to cure muscle cramps:
- Stretching – Stretching or massaging the muscle that has cramped up can help greatly. Pull the foot towards your shin for relief.
Here are some of the stretches you could do to get rid of leg cramps:
Quad stretch: If you’ve cramps in your upper thigh, you could try quad stretch. For this, you need to stand straight and lift the foot of your cramping leg up behind your thigh. Now, hold your foot with your hand and pull your heel gently toward your butt until you feel stretching in your upper thigh muscles. Hold for 15-20 seconds. Repeat till the pain soothes.
Calf stretch- Got a cramp in your calf area? Try calf stretches. To do calf stretches, stand at arm's length from a wall. Now, place your palms firmly against the wall. Keep one leg back with your knee straight and your heel flat on the floor. After you’ve gained balance, slowly bend your elbows and front knee and move your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your calf.
- Warm compress – Take a warm shower, or use a warm compress such as a heating pad. It would help in loosening the stiff muscles.
- Cold compress – Use an ice pack or a few ice cubes wrapped in a cloth on the affected area. Never put ice or an ice pack directly on your skin. Make sure there is a cloth or a towel between the two. This works efficiently in soothing the pain.
- Drink water – If your muscle is dehydrated, drinking water will help in easing out the cramp. If you’re into physical activities or rigorous exercise, have drinks that would provide you with the additional electrolytes such as coconut water and electral.
- Move around – Walk for a while, or jiggle your leg.
How to prevent leg cramps?
First off, the question is ‘Can leg cramps be prevented?’, well, yes, to a certain extent leg cramps can be prevented. Try the following tips to prevent leg cramps:
- Stay hydrated – Dehydration is one of the most common causes of muscle cramps. Drinking lots of fluids will help prevent them. You can have green tea, vegetable juices, buttermilk, lemonade, and fruit-infused water to keep your body hydrated. Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol, as they tend to dry out the body. Here is how much water you need to drink in a day in order to stay hydrated.
- Strengthen your muscles – As we age, our muscles start becoming less flexible, and start losing mass. This weakens the muscles, while putting extra pressure on the remaining ones, and makes them more prone to cramping. Strengthening the muscles with exercise will ensure your muscles aren’t overused.
- Maintain nutrient balance – Make sure you have enough foods that contain electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium. If these nutrient-rich foods aren’t available or having them is not an option, speak to your doctor about supplements. Get enough sun, as vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium.
- Stretch – Do a few stretches before you go to bed, daily. Always warm up and stretch before exercising, and never, ever forget to stretch and cool down post your workout.
- Be comfortable – While sleeping, make sure your bed sheet and/or blanket are loose. Give your feet support with a pillow, if you tend to sleep with your feet pointed. Wear proper and well-fitting shoes.
It’s totally normal to have leg cramps once in a while. Occasional leg cramps can be managed by making simple lifestyle changes. However, if your cramps are frequent, last long, or happen while walking, you must consult with your doctor.