How to Prevent Leg Cramps

Three Methods:Taking Physical PrecautionsEating and Drinking the Right NutrientsVisiting Your Doctor or Pharmacy

Leg cramps are a common occurrence among athletes, pregnant women, people with specific medical conditions or even an unassuming sleeping person. The fact is, it is very common to get leg cramps that cause a tightening of the muscles in your calves, hamstrings, or quadriceps. These sudden painful knots can last anywhere from a few seconds to fifteen minutes. While no one knows the exact cause, there are quite a few useful tips regarding the best ways to prevent them.[1]

Method 1
Taking Physical Precautions

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    Stretch after workouts. Exercising, injury or overuse of muscles can often lead to leg cramps.[2] People can get cramps within minutes or up to six hours after working out or any type of physical exertion. Therefore, you should stretch your leg muscles both before and after physical activities. If nighttime cramps are an issue, be sure to stretch before bedtime.[3]
    • Try stretches for the legs such as the calf stretch where you stand on a raised platform (like a step) and let your heels hang off the edge. The further you push your heels down, the more intensely you will feel the stretch in your calves.
    • Stretch your hamstring by standing up straight, then bending from the hips and trying to touch your hands to the floor. Avoid bending your knees (if possible) for a more intense stretch. Repeat as needed.
    • Quadriceps can be stretched by standing up straight, bending one leg backwards and grabbing your ankle. Push your hips forward to stretch your quads more. Repeat on the other side.
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    Avoid exposure to cold temperatures, particularly cold water. Cold water and cold weather can cause muscles, ligaments and tendons to become tight or stiff. This results in cramps in a number of people.[4] To prevent cramping of muscles, always bathe in warm water and use a heating pad on muscles that feel stiff or tight.[5]
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    Pay attention to the positioning of your legs. To reduce the chance of leg cramping, avoid putting your legs in awkward positions during sleep, standing on hard surfaces for a long period of time, or sitting for a long time.[6] Instead, make sure you allow the blood to circulate throughout your limbs by moving and stretching your legs frequently during the day, and elevating them while you sleep at night.
    • Place a pillow under your calves to avoid leg cramps. You can also allow your feet to hang off the edge of the bed to relax your leg muscles.[7]
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    Know your limits during workouts. Oftentimes, cramps are a result of pushing yourself harder than your body is used to. Avoid rapidly increasing the intensity or duration of a workout.[8] Instead, train up to it gradually, and always pace yourself.
    • Signs that you are overtraining your body include tightness in your muscles, joint stiffness, or aches and pains that persist for several days.[9]

Method 2
Eating and Drinking the Right Nutrients

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    Stay hydrated. Some studies have found that staying hydrated will prevent cramps (while other studies have found no correlation between the two). Researchers believe that the decreased fluid around a body’s cells causes muscle twitches, which in turn causes cramps.[10] Be sure to drink enough water daily and replenish after exercising.
    • The Institute of Medicine suggests that men should drink roughly 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day, while women should consume about 9 cups (2.2 liters) per day.[11]
    • The amount of fluids needed also depends on factors such as weight and activity level. Try an online calculator that will give you a more accurate estimation.[12]
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    Consume salty foods and drinks. Cramps can occur when the level of sodium (or salt) in your body is too low. Replace sodium by eating a slice of sour pickle or drinking the juice from a pickle. You can also substitute any acidic or salty items such as pretzels, high sodium sports drinks, or high sodium sports products.[13]
    • The pickle method is known as a “grandma formula” but even players on the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles have been known to drink two ounces of pickle juice before football games to prevent cramping.[14]
    • Unrefined sea salt is also suggested because it contains other minerals that are useful to the body.[15]
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    Increase your calcium intake. Many believe that muscle cramps are caused by a calcium deficiency.[16] Increase your consumption of calcium naturally by eating a diet rich in dairy products such as milk, cheese, or yogurt. Additionally, you can try taking calcium supplements that can be purchased at your local pharmacy or online. The average recommended daily amount for adults ages 19-50 is 1,000mg.[17]
    • If you don’t care for dairy products, try white beans, kale, sardines, salmon, or dried figs.[18]
    • Look for calcium supplements that also contain betaine hydrochloride, magnesium, and vitamin D. These nutrients help to increase the amount of calcium that’s digested into your body.[19]
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    Ensure you have enough magnesium in your blood. There are currently medical hypotheses that link leg cramps to low levels of magnesium in one’s system.[20] While the effect of magnesium on the general public is still being tested, it has proven an effective treatment for pregnant women.[21] Try taking a magnesium supplement which can be found at your local pharmacy.
    • Suggested magnesium levels vary from 360 mg/day to 420 mg/day based on age. Talk to your doctor about the dosage that’s right for you.[22]
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    Avoid potassium depletion. Potassium is an electrolyte that regulates the flow of liquids in and out of the body's cells. It also helps to conduct nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Most adults need 4,700 mg of potassium each day. High potassium foods include wholegrain breads, peanut butter, bananas, spinach, and milk or yogurt.[23]
    • Diuretics (water pills) that are used to treat conditions like high blood pressure, have been known to increase the risk of leg cramps because it increases the body's excretion of electrolytes like potassium.[24]

Method 3
Visiting Your Doctor or Pharmacy

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    Try a topical treatment like dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO). DMSO is a clear, slightly oily liquid that is applied to the skin to reduce swelling, inflammation and pain. Mix a solution of one part water and two parts DMSO and rub into the skin at least three times a day.[25]
    • DMSO comes in both liquid and gel form. Opt for the 99.9% liquid to avoid itching and irritation.
    • Known reactions include mild itching, irritation, and warmth to the affected area. Reactions are temporary and pose no cause for concern.
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    Take an over-the-counter medication. There are a few OTC medications that claim to have homeopathic formulas that stimulate the body’s natural healing processes in order to relieve symptoms of cramping. Caplets or tablets should be taken with water every 4 hours (or as needed), while the ointment can be used liberally and applied directly to the skin.[26]
    • Active ingredients in different OTC products vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so always read the label carefully. Active ingredients include Cinchona Officinalis, Gnaphalium Polycephalum, and Magnesia Phosphorica.
    • Check your local pharmacy or online vendors for availability.
    • Always consult your doctor before taking a new medication if you are pregnant, nursing, or administering to someone under the age of 12.
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    Get a prescription for quinine. Doctors have been prescribing quinine for leg cramps since the 1940s because there have been no other reliable medications developed. Prescribing of the drug remains high despite FDA safety warnings and little scientific evidence to support its effectiveness. Talk to your doctor about all treatment options before considering quinine.[27]
    • The brand name Qualaquin is the only drug containing quinine allowed by the FDA.
    • Side effects include cardiac problems, rashes and allergic reactions, hearing problems, eye problems, kidney failure, and more.
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    Talk to your physician about leg cramps that result from other medical conditions. Medical conditions such as diabetes, nerve disorders, liver disorders, or thyroid disorders can result in leg cramps.[28] You can treat yourself with self-care measures such as leg stretches, staying hydrated, or medication.[29] If symptoms persist, talk to your doctor immediately.


  • If you find yourself in the middle of a nasty cramp, try massaging or kneading it until the pain subsides.
  • Other medical conditions are prone to cramping including conditions which effect blood flow (peripheral arterial disease), kidney disease, thyroid disease, and multiple sclerosis.
  • Pregnant women are especially prone to cramps due to decreased amounts of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium.
  • Pinching your lip has also been known to ease the intensity or stop a sudden cramp. Firmly hold the upper lip between the thumb and index finger and maintain constant pressure.


  • Always consult your physician before taking any medications or beginning any fitness regimen.
  • Use caution when stretching to avoid straining or pulling a muscle.

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Categories: Cramps