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Leg Cramps

Leg cramps, also known as charley horses, are involuntary, painful contractions of the skeletal muscles in the legThey can occur anywhere from the foot to the thigh, but are most common in the calf muscles. Leg cramps are usually sharp and sudden, and typically last only a few seconds to minutes.

Causes

A muscle cramp can happen after working a muscle too hard or straining it, losing body fluids through sweat or simply holding a position for a long time. Often, however, the cause is not known.

Most muscle cramps are harmless. But some might be related to a medical concern, such as:

Risk factors

Factors that might increase the risk of muscle cramps include:

Here are some steps that might help prevent muscle cramps:
  • Hydration
    Drink plenty of water and other liquids without caffeine or alcohol every day. Before physical activity, drink water 30 minutes beforehand. During activity, drink 5 ounces of water every 20 minutes for kids and teens under 90 pounds, and 8 ounces every 20 minutes for those over 90 pounds. For activities longer than an hour, drink fluids with electrolytes and carbohydrates. After activity, continue to drink water or other liquids. Soup can also help with hydration because it contains electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium.
  • Stretching
    Gently stretch your muscles before and after using them for a period of time. Dynamic stretches can help warm up your muscles before exercise, and static stretches can help after exercise and before bed. Stretching before bed can help prevent leg cramps at night.
  • Sleeping
    Use a pillow to keep toes pointed upwards if sleeping on back, or hang feet over the end of the bed if sleeping on front. Keep blankets and sheets loose around feet.
  • Exercise
    Light exercise before bed, like riding a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill, can help prevent cramps while you sleep.
  • Diet
    Eat foods that are high in potassium and salt during and after exercise. You can also eat bananas before, during, or after exercise to help reduce the risk of cramps.
  • Shoes
    Wear supportive shoes with proper arch and ankle support
     
    *325 milligrams of quinine orally at bedtime to relieve nocturnal leg cramps.
     
     
    Here are some home remedies for leg cramps:
    • Stretch: Stretch the cramped muscle. For calf cramps, keep your leg straight and pull the top of your foot toward your face. You can also try stretching your muscles before and after exercise and at bedtime.
    • Massage: Gently rub the cramped muscle with your hands or a foam roller.
    • Apply heat or cold: Use a heating pad, warm towel, or warm bath to help loosen up tight muscles. Once the pain subsides, you can try applying an ice pack wrapped in a towel to the area.
    • Take pain medication: Take over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
    • Elevate: Prop up leg after the cramp starts in order to feel better

     

    One should see a HCP if:
    • The spasms are very painful
    • They happen frequently or last for a long time
    • there is significant pain,
    • swelling or numbness in the leg,
    • skin changes
    • Also if leg cramps interfere with sleep
    Some drinks that may help stop leg cramps include: electrolyte drinks, coconut water, V8 and pickle juice
Author
Paddy Kalish OD, JD and B.Arch

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