In order to move, we voluntarily contract and relax our muscles simultaneously. When a muscle or fibers of a muscle contract uncontrollably it causes a spasm. At times this muscle spasm is sustained over a period of time and it becomes a muscle cramp. A muscle cramp can be seen and felt in the hardening of a particular muscle.
Muscle cramps are very common and can occur in different parts of the body. One of the most common complaints is of muscle cramps in the legs, especially the calf muscles. When the leg cramp occurs in the calf it is also referred to as a Charley Horse. Other leg cramps involve the hamstring and the quadriceps muscles. Leg cramps occur in both children and adults and can last for a less than a minute or even longer. Many people suffer from leg cramps primarily at night.
Symptoms of Leg Cramps
Leg cramps are involuntary contractions of the leg muscles that can be very painful. Most leg cramps occur suddenly with warning signals that include tingling and twitching of muscles before an abrupt pain follows. Severe cramps can cause swelling and soreness and may require massage and rest to aid recovery. At the time the muscle is contracting, a visible hardening of the particular muscles can be felt. This cramping may also be visible with the muscle knotting and bulging obviously. During the cramp, it may not be possible to move your leg as well. Post the cramp, the leg muscle may feel tender to the touch.
Diagnosing a leg cramp is easy as the symptoms are self-evident. If leg cramps become chronic you may need to get the situation evaluated by your doctor. Once the cause of the cramp is diagnosed, a proper course of treatment can be prescribed.
Causes of Leg Cramps
In most cases, leg cramp causes remain unknown. If they happen only sporadically, leg cramps are harmless and can be ignored. However if they recur constantly, cause pain and discomfort and disturb your sleep, it may be better to consult with a doctor to get to the root of the problem. In rare cases, leg cramps may be indicative of a more serious medical condition.
Causes of leg cramps include:
- Restless leg syndrome
- Flat feet
- PAD or Peripheral Artery Disease
- Alcohol abuse
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Kidney failure
- Medications such as diuretics, oral contraceptives and blood pressures medicines
- Parkinson’s disease
- Addison’s disease
- Muscle fatigue
- Excessive exercise
- Starting a new exercise routine
- Imbalance of electrolytes
- Circulation problems
- Hormonal imbalance
- Injury to the leg
- Calcium deficiency
- Neural disorders
Remedies for Leg Cramps
In most cases, conventional treatment for cramps also involves the use of home care and lifestyle modifications. Some of these methods are also recommended as home remedies, but there are other remedies as well that involve the use of certain herbal concoctions and so on. Do keep in mind that not all of these have been scientifically tested, and so their effectiveness could vary greatly.
- Simple leg cramp treatment involves keeping hydrated at all times. There is a link between dehydration and muscle cramps so make sure you drink enough of fluids in the day to prevent this happening. If you exercise, ensure that you drink water before and after your exercise routine to replace the fluids lost while sweating. Drinking also balances out the electrolytes in the body – another reason why leg cramps can occur.
- If you exercise, consult with a trainer and learn a proper stretching routine. Stretches should be performed before and after exercising to warm muscles up prior to your exercise and relax them after so that the possibility of cramping is reduced. Try and not exercise just before sleeping as well. Never jump into a new exercise routine and over do it. Ease yourself into an exercise regime to allow your muscles to get used to the changes. Sudden bursts of activity and over use of muscles can cause leg cramps later.
- When a leg cramp strikes, the best thing to do for leg cramp relief is to massage the tightened muscle gently. Try and stretch the leg if you can or use a hot water bottle on the affected area to relax the contracted muscles. Having a hot shower before sleeping can also prevent leg cramps at night.
- Drinking a glass of warm milk before sleeping is an effective leg cramp cure. The calcium in the milk reduces any deficiency that may be causing the leg cramps.
- Drink at least five cups of chamomile tea during the day for a period of two weeks. Chamomile works as a relaxant and is an excellent leg cramp remedy. Studies show that chamomile tea also increases the level of glycine – an amino acid in the urine. Glycine can relieve muscle spasms and cramps and thus chamomile tea is an effective remedy for leg cramps.
- Home remedies for muscle cramps can include massaging the affected area with essential oils such as lavender oil or rosemary oil. After the massage, wrap the area in a warm towel for the best results. These oils can help relax the muscles and prevent further cramping as well.
- An easy home remedy for leg cramps is to mix one tablespoon of calcium lactate and one teaspoon each of honey and apple cider vinegar to a glass of warm water. Drink this concoction at least once a day as a leg cramp treatment. Leg cramps are often caused by a potassium deficiency. Since apple cider vinegar is high in potassium, it is an effective home remedy for leg cramps.
- Boil water and add one teaspoon of red raspberry tea to it. Let this infusion sit for a while before drinking it every morning and evening. Raspberry tea is an effective remedy for leg cramps at night.
- Take a 400mg supplement of magnesium before sleeping to relax the muscles and help process the calcium in the body.
- Athletes have been using mustard as a leg cramp treatment for years now. The acetic acid in mustard is believed to stimulate the muscles by producing more acetylcholine in the body. Since leg cramps may be caused by a deficiency of this compound, having a spoon of mustard can prevent leg cramps. Similarly pickle juice is also high in acetic acid and can be consumed to cure leg cramps.
Diet for Leg Cramps
Making changes in your diet can go a long way towards treating leg cramps. These include:
- Drinking a minimum of eight to ten glasses of water a day to prevent dehydration and cramping. However avoid drinking too much tea, coffee, alcohol and carbonated beverages as these can aggravate the condition rather than help matters.
- A deficiency of potassium or calcium can cause leg cramps. To this effect it is important to increase the intake of foods high in potassium and calcium such as bananas, oranges, strawberries, dried fruit, fresh orange juice and grapefruit juice, beets, spinach, mushrooms, fish, and beef. Increasing your consumption of dairy products like milk, cheese, and yoghurt can also boost your calcium intake. Nuts such as almonds and foods like tofu and sardines are rich in calcium as well.
- Research indicates that magnesium-rich foods can also prevent leg cramps. Add green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale along with wheat germ and pumpkin seeds to increase your magnesium levels.
- Ensure that your diet is balanced and healthy and consists of foods high in vitamin A and vitamin E as well. Try including sweet potatoes, carrots, liver, salmon, sunflower seeds, and soy beans into your daily diet for the best results. Avoid refined flour and stick to whole grains and whole grain products such as breads and pastas. Processing the grains removes almost all the necessary nutrients and vitamins.
- If you suffer from chronic cramping speak to your doctor about multi-vitamin and mineral supplements. You can opt for calcium, magnesium or potassium supplements to reduce and prevent leg cramps. In some instances, calcium supplements may be more effective than consuming calcium-rich foods. Dairy products such as cheese for example may be high in calcium but it also has high phosphorus levels that can interfere with the absorption of calcium in the body. In such cases, supplements offer a better chance of boosting the calcium levels in the body.
Suggestion for Leg Cramps
Some suggestions to ease leg cramps include:
- Use the proper footwear especially when exercising to prevent putting extra pressure on the muscles and causing cramping.
- Keep the bed sheets and covers loose. Tight bed covers may cause feet to be placed awkwardly and this could result in leg cramps. Sleeping on your side also prevents leg cramps.
- During a cramp, try and point your toes to stretch the leg muscles. You can also try some easy stretching exercises before you go to sleep to prevent cramping at night.
- Yoga or Pilates can teach you how to relax your muscle and breathe through the pain. Yoga poses can improve blood circulation and minimize cramping.