How to Prevent and Treat Leg Muscle Cramps
Leg cramps are painful spasms that usually affect the calf muscles, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. Often striking in the middle of the night, these excruciating episodes can also occur during physical activities that strain the leg muscles, such as running and cycling.
Additionally, some people experience leg spasms after sustaining calf muscle trauma or maintaining an awkward leg position for an extended period of time. On the other hand, some leg muscle cramps result from a sedentary lifestyle. Other possible causes include certain medications, such as birth control, diuretics, and steroids. A lack of potassium or calcium can also contribute to muscle spasms, as can cold weather.
Because the musculoskeletal system gradually breaks down as part of the natural aging process, the muscles – including the calves – progressively lose flexibility over time. Stretching and strengthening exercises are important for maintaining optimal conditioning of these hard-working muscles. Certain vitamins and minerals, such as potassium and magnesium, can also affect muscle function. Some health experts recommend getting at least 300 milligrams of magnesium each day. The best way to do so is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes foods that are rich in magnesium, such as nuts, lentils, and quinoa.
There are several other ways to help alleviate the pain of leg cramps. These include:
- “Walking off” the pain
- Shaking the affected leg
- Rubbing the painful calf muscle
- Applying cool compresses to the tender area
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers (medications that are specifically formulated to treat menstrual cramps are often effective for leg cramps as well)
- Using an analgesic balm or patch
If you tend to experience calf spasms during or after strenuous physical activity, you can plan ahead by drinking plenty of water (dehydration can contribute to muscle cramps) and eating a nutritious meal beforehand. Many athletes suggest eating a potassium-rich banana after a workout.
If you have questions about preventing or treating leg cramps, you can contact or visit South Tampa Immediate Care. Our walk-in clinic is conveniently located on South Howard Avenue in Tampa, FL.