Leg Cramps: Causes & Cures
Fitness & nutritional deficiencies can put strain on your leg muscles. Some leg muscle cramps can jolt you awake in the middle of the night, while others can strike in the daytime during physical activities such as running and cycling. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to up to 10 minutes, and may also be the result of a sedentary lifestyle.
Leg Cramp Causes
Leg cramps can be caused by many conditions, ranging simply from dehydration to something much more serious such as kidney disease. Cramps often result from vigorous exercise, trauma to the muscle, or keeping the leg in an awkward position for too long, such as sitting in a crowded theater.
Other causes can include medications such as birth control, diuretics (which are often prescribed for people with high blood pressure) and steroids. A lack of potassium or calcium can also be the underlying cause, as well as cold weather.
Acute leg cramps frequently are confused with restless legs syndrome (RLS) which is a different and more serious, chronic condition characterized by discomfort and persistent throbbing and pulling sensations in the legs.
How to Stop A Leg Cramp
There are a number ways you can alleviate nighttime leg cramps. Once a leg cramp starts, the best method to relieve them is movement, so try to walk around or jiggle/shake your leg, and rubbing the muscles helps as well. In addition, rotating your ankles in a circle or moving the foot up and down can end a cramp.
Some people with chronic leg cramps have found relief using cool compresses, which work by numbing pain and reducing soreness. But anyone who regularly suffers leg cramps should also work to strengthen their muscles, which will make cramps less frequent.
Our musculoskeletal system hits its peak at the age of 20, and while it maintains its peak for an additional 20 years, the reality is that it begins to break down at age 40, meaning muscles becoming less flexible. Once we pass into the fourth decade of life, it is critical we play an active role in stretching and strengthening our bodies to maintain appropriate, maximal health.
It may be best to consult a physician if leg cramps last for 5 to 10 minutes or occur multiple times a week.
How To Prevent Leg Cramps
You can prevent or alleviate muscle cramps in your legs by making simple lifestyle changes. Drinking plenty of water is essential, since cramps are often caused by dehydration. A healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables can also help to decrease the frequency of leg cramps.
If you do get leg cramps frequently, especially nocturnal leg cramps it could be due to an electrolyte imbalance. Certain vitamins and minerals like potassium and magnesium, impact muscle function.
A significant amount of research has found that increasing your magnesium intake can help limit the frequency of night time leg cramps, especially for pregnant women. Health experts recommend getting at least 300 milligrams of magnesium each day. Foods rich in magnesium, such as nuts, lentils, quinoa, raw chocolate (raw cacao, the #1 source of magnesium), nuts and pumpkin seeds, molasses, spinach, baked potatoes, bananas, wheat germ and seafood.
Low potassium levels can cause leg cramps, because potassium works with sodium to control the fluid balance in your body, and they have to be in the right proportions in order to work effectively. If you have a high sodium diet, try cutting back on the sodium a bit, use only high-quality salt such as Himalayan Sea Salt, and at the same time eat more of the foods that are high in potassium.
Boost potassium levels by eating more apples, bananas, dried fruits, avocado, mushrooms, yogurt, kefir, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked potatoes and cantaloupe.
Apple cider vinegar is high in potassium and this drink recipe below should help quickly if your leg cramps are caused by low potassium:
- 2 Tsp. Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 Tsp. Pure Raw Honey
- 8oz. Warm Water
- Mix everything together, stir well and drink.
Boosting your intake of calcium along with the above mentioned magnesium together, can also help alleviate leg cramps. One super-food that’s incredibly high in both of these minerals, raw chocolate known as cacao, but you should also eat more vegetables, especially dark leafy greens like broccoli and kale & nuts like almonds all of which are high in both calcium and magnesium.
Other calcium-rich food sources include: salmon, sardines (with bones), green beans, turnip greens. Additional magnesium-rich foods include:
Plan ahead for self-care if your leg cramps primarily appear to be the result of strenuous exercise. Drink plenty of fluids and eat a well-balanced meal before heading out for a long run. Many athletes suggest eating a potassium-rich banana once you reach the finish line.