Muscle cramps are painful, visible contractions of a muscle or part of a muscle. Many people experience muscle cramps in the calf.
In most cases, the cramp can last for a few seconds to a few minutesTrusted Source before spontaneously resolving.
Keep reading to learn about the causes, treatments, and prevention of leg muscle cramps.
Leg muscle cramps can be very painful and uncomfortable.
To provide some relief, a person can:
- stretch the muscle
- get a deep tissue massage
- apply a hot or cold compress to the affected area
A doctor will not usually recommend medication for the routine treatment of leg cramps due to there being very little evidence of the medicines working. However, in some cases, a doctor may consider medications such as:
- vitamin B-12 complex
In pregnant women, magnesium and multivitamins may help.
In the past, people have also used quinine to treat leg cramps. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have strongly advised against this due to safety concernsTrusted Source.
If a person suspects that their cramps are due to serious medical concerns such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or the ingestion of toxins, they should seek emergency medical attention.
However, for benign cramps, staying hydrated and maintaining a healthful diet may help in preventing leg muscle cramps.
Before exercising, a person should be sure to stretch the muscles and drink plenty of water.
Many people believe that taking magnesium supplements can help prevent muscle cramps. In fact, some vitamin and mineral supplement companies actually market magnesium supplements for muscle cramp prevention.
Some foods also provide magnesium. Foods that are high in magnesium include:
- cashew nuts
- black beans
- baked potatoes with skin
- cooked brown rice
- plain, low fat yogurt
However, it is important to note that studies have not yet confirmed that magnesium is effective for the prevention of leg muscle cramps.
Muscle cramp occurs when the surrounding neurons repetitively stimulate it. Leg muscle cramps are a commonTrusted Source occurrence.
According to some researchersTrusted Source, the exact causes of leg muscle cramps are largely unknown, but some triggers can include:
- the presence of nocturnal leg cramps
- certain medications, including intravenous iron sucrose, raloxifene, naproxen, and teriparatide
Sometimes, leg muscle cramps can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. These might include:
- a neurological condition, such as motor neuron disease
- an infection, such as tetanus
- liver disease
Ingesting toxins such as lead or mercury can also cause muscle cramps.
If a person believes that they have ingested one or both of these toxins, they should call Poison Control on 1-800-222-1222 and seek emergency medical attention.
Who is at risk?
Leg muscle cramps can affect anyone, but those who are more at risk include:
- people with overweight or obesity
- people taking certain medications
- older adults, particularly those aged 65 and over
- pregnant women
Is it serious?
When leg muscle cramps occur as a result of exercise or standing for too long, the body needs rest. In these cases, the symptoms should resolve on their own.
When leg muscle cramps become persistent, however, a person may also notice that they are not sleeping well, or that they feel limited in their daily activities. Although not serious, these persistent symptoms can impact a person’s quality of life.
If a person experiences muscle cramps along with other symptoms, such as swelling or skin discoloration, they should seek emergency medical help, as it may be a symptom of DVT.
Cramps that occur in young, healthy people and resolve spontaneously do not usually require medical attention.
If leg muscle cramps become recurrent or start to affect a person’s quality of life and daily activities, they should make an appointment with their doctor.
Leg muscle cramps are common complaints that can occur in anyone. People who are more at risk of experiencing leg muscle cramps include young people who exercise, pregnant women, and older adults.
If leg muscle cramps do not resolve or become persistent, a person should visit their doctor.
Severe leg muscle cramps may be a symptom of a serious underlying condition that requires immediate medical attention.
However, in most situations, leg muscle cramps are not serious and will go away on their own.