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How to Relieve Leg Cramps

Two Methods:Relieving a Leg CrampPreventing Leg Cramps

Leg cramps, sometimes called "Charley horses," are a common ailment, especially for pregnant women, the elderly, and people who engage in sports. A sudden contraction, usually of the calf muscles, causes sharp pain that can last anywhere from a few seconds to 10 minutes. While leg cramps can be prevented, you can relieve an acute leg cramp with prompt movement and massage.

Method 1
Relieving a Leg Cramp

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    Flex your toes upward as soon as you get a leg cramp. A normal sleeping position with your knees slightly bent and your toes pointing down shortens the calf muscles, making them prone to contraction.[1]
    • Flex and point your toes, holding each position for about 2 seconds. Repeat for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
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    Walk around on your heels.[2] This expansion and contraction of the muscles can massage the calf muscle and increase circulation to the muscles. Poor circulation denies oxygen to the muscles, which can cause cramping.
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    Stretch your calf. Place your cramped leg behind the leg that isn't cramping, with about a foot in between them. Bend the knee on your front, normal leg. This will cause the cramped calf to stretch forward.[3]
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    Stand with your feet hip width apart about 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) from a wall. Keep your feet straight and feet firmly planted on the ground. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the wall. Bend your elbows and lean forward. Both calves will stretch. If it is too severe, step closer to the wall, or you can step further away for a deeper stretch.[4]
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    Massage the muscle. Sit with your cramped leg crossed over your other thigh and massage the muscle gently. You can apply firmer or deeper pressure as you prefer.[5]
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    Apply heat to the area if the cramp persists. A warm compress will help increase circulation to the muscle. You can use a warm towel or a heating pad.[6]
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    Take a warm shower. If the cramps are still there after 5 or more minutes, hop in a steamy shower. This will allow the heat to cascade over the muscle and might relieve the cramp.
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    Drink 8 to 16 oz. (1/4 to 1/2 l) of water immediately after the cramp. Dehydration is one of the main causes of leg cramping, in both athletic and non-athletic people.
    • If you've gotten the cramp after exercise, your electrolytes may be out of balance. Drink a sports drink containing electrolytes to replenish yourself.[7]
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    Take a pain reliever. You may find that ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help relieve the pain from a leg cramp. Take the dosage recommended on the packaging.[8]

Method 2
Preventing Leg Cramps

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    Drink plenty of fluids every day to reduce the risk of cramps from dehydration.[9] Drink at least eight 8-oz. glasses (1.9 l) of water per day, or more if you are trying to replace fluids lost during sickness. Some experts recommend even more water intake each day, between 9-13 cups.[10]
    • If you have been suffering from diarrhea or another sickness, it can cause excess potassium, as well as water, to leave your system, making you more susceptible to cramps. Getting relief from the illness should also ease cramp pain.
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    Wear shoes that have cushioned foot beds and arch supports. Improper footwear can make calf muscles susceptible to strain or cramping. Cushioned foot inserts are available at most drug stores.[11][12]
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    Use a pillow to prop your knees up while lying in bed. If you sleep on your stomach, allow your feet to hang over the bed.[13]
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    Sleep under looser sheets. If you like to sleep tucked in nice and tight, you might be inviting leg cramps, especially if you sleep on your back. Loosen up the sheets around your feet so that the feet aren't pressed into a position that tightens your calf muscles as you sleep.[14]
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    Stretch, walk or use a stationary bicycle for 5 minutes before going to bed. This will warm up your muscles and increase circulation.[15]
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    Exercise your calf muscles regularly during the day. You can do this by walking, biking or doing yoga. Moderate exercise will decrease the chance of having muscle spasms, while extreme exercise can increase the risk.[16]
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    Consult your doctor about quinine, potassium, calcium or magnesium supplements if you are having nightly or daily cramps. Quinine may help reduce the frequency of leg cramps.[17]
    • Try taking a small dose of magnesium citrate before bedtime if you are having frequent night cramps.


  • Be aware that a deficiency of vitamins, especially magnesium, potassium and calcium can bring on night-time cramping. But it's not all about supplements. Sometimes, eliminating foods from your diet can help reduce or totally eliminate nocturnal cramping. You may want to try an elimination diet in order to determine which foods work for you, and which foods should be eliminated. And remember to stay hydrated!.
  • If you feel intense pain in the muscle after you have a leg cramp, seek help from a doctor or medical trainer. A bad muscle cramp can cause tears in the muscle or its tendons. This condition is called muscle strain.
  • If you have pain resulting from muscle tear or damage after the cramp, apply a cold, rather than warm, compress. This will help to reduce inflammation and numb the area.
  • Other conditions that can cause muscle cramping include nerve disorders, cirrhosis of the liver, sarcoidosis, peripheral vascular disease and kidney dialysis. Medications that can cause muscle cramping include Diuretics, Statins, Lithium, Penicillamine, Nifedipine, Nicotinic Acid, Cimetidine, Clofibrate, Salbutamol and Phenothiazines.
  • Talk to your doctor about wearing supportive stockings for help with cramps, if you are elderly or in the later stages of pregnancy. These compression stockings, like a warm compress, help increase blood circulation to your legs.
  • A theory about muscle cramps says that if you bite your upper lip, your muscle cramp will release. There is no medical foundation for this claim.
  • Take ibuprofen to help ease the pain.


  • Exposure to lead or tetanus bacteria can lead to extreme muscle cramping. Visit the doctor immediately if either of these situations occur.
  • Never take supplements without first consulting a health care professional.

Things You'll Need

  • Hot compress
  • Water
  • Cold compress
  • Shower
  • Wall

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