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Leg cramps


The Scenario

You slowly awaken and feel a hamstring tightening. At first it's a dull pain that then becomes sharper until it's finally excruciatingly painful! You drag yourself out of bed and hobble around suppressing a scream! You try stretching, bending and massaging your leg but nothing seems to help!

Welcome to the world of nocturnal leg cramps that around 70% of adults over the age of fifty suffer from and many younger people do too.

So what are these cramps?

These cramps are fundamentally no more than sudden, involuntary contractions of the calf muscles that occur during the night or while at rest. Sometimes the muscles in the soles of the feet also become cramped and the sensation or perhaps we should we say agony can last for just a few seconds or up to 10 minutes.


Drink six to eight glasses of water daily which should prevent dehydration which is thought to play a major role in cramping.

A very common cause of nocturnal leg cramps is calcium deficiency so if you're postmenopausal, trying to lose weight or don't consume
enough calcium then you'll be vulnerable to developing leg cramps.
If you're trying to avoid fat, then try non-fat yogurt and skim milk and take a calcium supplement at bedtime.

In one study of 125 patients with nocturnal leg and foot cramps all but 2 had complete or nearly complete relief from their symptoms when they took vitamin E supplements and in most cases the symptoms returned when the supplements were discontinued.

If neither calcium nor vitamin E bring relief then you might try magnesium, potassium or vitamin A.

It has been shown that both sugar and caffeine reduce the
absorption of vitamins and minerals and of calcium in particular so attempt to eliminate as much sugar and caffeine from your diet as possible.
Lack of potassium is often thought to be an additional cause of leg cramps so consider if you're eating enough potassium rich foods like bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, oranges and grapefruit.

What to do when you're stricken by them

The two most common suggestions are :

1. Stand 30 inches (75cm) from the wall.
2. While keeping your heels on the floor, lean forward and put your hands on the wall and then slowly move your hands up the wall as far as you can comfortably reach.
3. Hold this stretched position for 30 seconds and then release.
4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 two more times.
5. For best results, practice this exercise in the morning, before your evening meal and before going to bed each night.


1. When your calf muscles cramp, flex your foot up (toes to ceiling) and hold until the cramping stops
2. Apply heat to cramping muscles
3. Massage the cramped muscles

Some additional suggestions which might seem somewhat bizarre but have many adherents that swear by them :

Sleep with legs bent, avoid high heels, soak feet/legs in warm/hot water or use heating pad for ten minutes before bedtime, place a pillow at the end of the bed to prop up your feet.

Put an unwrapped bar of soap under the sheets so that the cramped leg rests upon it. The soap can be kept in place by putting rubber bands around it and pinning the rubber bands to the sheet.

Place a spoon by your bedside and when you're wakened by a leg cramp put the spoon on the cramp and it will un-cramp instantly.

Keep a wine (must be wine and preferable red) cork handy and grip it when a leg cramp occurs.

Place your finger directly below your nose and press firmly against the upper lip.

Apple cider vinegar has a vast number of supporters all over the world and one of it's claimed effects is the prevention of leg cramps. A table spoon per day is recommended and the easiest way to drink it is in a glass of apple juice.

If you are taking prescription drugs

A common side effect of many prescription drugs is to cause cramping and diuretics that are taken for high blood pressure or heart disorders for example can cause an imbalance of your potassium and magnesium levels. A simple blood test will tell you if this is a problem and if it is then supplements of the appropriate mineral should help alleviate the cramps.

Can any medication help?

The only drug that has been shown to be effective in treating night time leg cramps is quinine. However the Food and Drug Administration has ruled that none of the over the counter drugs used to treat night time leg cramps are recognized as safe or effective and therefore they are subject to regulatory action. Doctors will often prescribe 1 or 2 quinine pills at bedtime but since they can cause birth defects and miscarriages they should never be taken by a pregnant woman. Quinine can also cause ringing in the ears, headaches, nausea, disturbed vision, chest pain and asthma".