Like most people, I'm concerned with the practical needs of everyday life, and therefore research issues of health and livelihood.
There was a time in my life when I'd wake up in the middle of the night with leg cramps that totally seized up my leg and were incredibly painful. It can be quite a shock to be awakened by a severe leg cramp. Your muscles lock up, you can't move your leg and, in my case, I could feel the spasms up the calf into the back of the knee.
This started happening to me at the height of my martial arts training. I was training heavily, and regularly, and my muscles were often overworked. Not only did I get major leg cramps in my sleep but I also got them on the mat while I was in the middle of a workout. Needless to say, leg cramps can get in the way of such activities.
Let's look at leg cramps in terms of what causes them and also what you can do about them.
What Causes Leg Cramps?
As I alluded to before, your muscles being overworked can make them cramp. If the muscles are already tight, it's even more likely that they will cramp up, too.
In addition, dehydration and a deficiency in potassium (the two often going together) can cause leg cramps.
So, obviously, some of the remedies for leg cramps are related to these causes.
Fast Relief for Leg Cramp
As I said, I'd sometimes get a leg cramp while training in martial arts. Often it was when I'd been working out regularly and intensely, the muscles were overworked and the leg cramps would come on.
One time in particular, I remember working on techniques with a partner. The mat seemed to have a bit too much traction for me and my big toe got caught on the mat a bit and the pull of it triggered a leg cramp; the big toe straightened out and seized up and I could feel this very intense cramp in my calf up into the back of my knee and I was pretty much immobilized. I still remember the instructor telling my partner how to stop the cramp.
First, you hold the heel in place and bend the foot back so that the toes are going toward you; in other words, you are somewhat stretching the calf muscle out. Then, quite simply, you pinch the big toe on that foot.
To those unfamiliar with this technique, I'm sure it sounds strange. But, sure enough, it got rid of my leg cramp. The cramp was gone instantly.
At that time, I sat down and took a rest, but the pain and spasms were gone.
Remedies for leg cramps:
- Drink plenty of water
- Eat bananas or take potassium
- Stretch calf/leg muscles
- Get rest
Stretching Calf Muscles
Leg Cramp Remedies
So, as already stated, pulling back the foot and pinching the toe can provide instant relief for a leg cramp. However, there are some long-term strategies that can help prevent leg cramps.
As stated dehydration can cause leg cramps especially if you're having heavy workouts. Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated, therefore, can help you stave off the leg cramps.
Hand in hand with that, is the possibility that you need more potassium. Dehydration depletes you of electrolytes and so you might be in need of potassium if you are dehydrated and having leg cramps. You can start eating more bananas or start taking a potassium supplement.
Another major factor that could contribute to leg cramps is that your muscles might be too tight. If you demand a lot of your body, then your body must be prepared for what you put it though; if the muscles are too tight, they can't handle strenuous workouts. They must be flexible to handle movement and work.
One of the best stretches I've found for the calf, where my leg cramps took place, is one in which you kneel down on one knee and keep the foot of the other leg with the bottom of it flat on the ground; then you simply lean your body into that leg with the foot on the ground and this naturally stretches the calf and ankle muscles by bending the foot back.
Also, you can, from a (1) standing position, (2) hands against a wall, (3) toes pointing forward, (4) put one foot a couple feet forward of your rear foot and (5) keep that back leg straight and (6) with the heel on the ground, (7) lean forward on and bend the front leg (see video, upper right). This offers a decent stretch of the calf muscles. Of course, with all these stretches you have to hold the stretch for half a minute to a minute to really stretch those muscles; and do the stretch several times.
Finally, because these cramps are often caused by overexertion of muscles, it might be a good idea to take it easy from the workouts and get some decent rest. Your body needs rest too.
Causes of and Remedies for Leg Cramps
|Dehydration||Potassium Deficiency||Tight/Overworked Muscles|
Drink More Water
Eat Bananas or Take Supplements
Stretch and Rest
So, chances are, if you are getting leg cramps then you are overworking your muscles and might simply need more rest. But it doesn't hurt to make sure you are stretching your muscles well, because limber and flexible, loose, muscles can handle heavy workouts better than tight muscles.
It's always a good idea, too, to drink plenty of water. Dehydration is often the cause of leg cramps and water is good for you anyway, and helps keep necessary circulation through your body which will prevent leg cramps. Also, eat some bananas to keep up the amount of potassium in your system.
Those leg cramps can be painful but there are real and practical ways to deal with them.
Don't give up!
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2014 Nathan Bernardo
Sherry Hewins from Sierra Foothills, CA on May 22, 2017:
I wake up at night with leg cramps on occasion. I had already discovered for myself that if I pull my toes up, to flex my foot, it gives me relief.
That lengthens the calf muscle, while pointing the toes (that was my first instinct) shortens it .
I'm sure this is very useful information for others who suffer with calf cramps.
Nathan Bernardo (author) from California, United States of America on April 30, 2014:
Thanks, Bill. Yes, there's nothing quite like a leg cramp; a combination of intense pain and totally losing control of one of your limbs. I used to get them often, at a time when I was very active physically. Stretching is definitely the immediate antidote, as difficult as it is.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 30, 2014:
Really very helpful. I woke up the other night with a leg cramp, and as painful as it is to do, stretching that cramp is the only way to find relief. Anyway, good job on this.