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What Causes Leg Cramps and How to Get Rid of Them

Author:

Sharlee likes to research common health ailments that can be remedied with a little self-care and healthy lifestyle choices.

Make sure to stretch when exercising.

Make sure to stretch when exercising.

What Causes Leg Cramps?

Are you plagued with intermittent leg cramps? Are you perplexed by what's causing them? It's important to get to the bottom of what is causing your leg pain; only then can you begin to treat and relieve the pain.

First, let's talk about a few factors that have been proven to cause leg pain and cramping. One of the more serious (but thankfully less common) health conditions that can cause leg cramps is deep vein thrombosis or DVT. DVT is a blood clot in the leg. This condition has specific symptoms such as pain, swelling, and redness in a specific area of the leg. One might also feel a lump or clot. However, as a rule, a clot will not be palpable. Symptoms of DVT will be felt in one leg only. If your symptoms in any respect mimic the above symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Another health problem that can cause leg cramps is an electrolyte imbalance. Think of the body as a machine, and think of electrolytes as different types of fuel that help keep the body working properly. When any given electrolyte is experiencing an imbalance, the human body will be warned with specific signs and symptoms. So, how can an electrolyte imbalance affect your leg muscles and ultimately cause cramps?

There are three major electrolytes that help keep muscles healthy and hydrated: calcium, potassium, and sodium. I am sure you may be at this point wondering, how can these electrolytes become depleted? Actually, electrolytes are easily depleted, and they are sneaky in doing so.

How Do Electrolytes Become Depleted?

Perhaps you don't take the time to eat breakfast, and then you head off for a day of shopping. Then, to add to the problem, you don't take time to stop and drink water. After you have been shopping for several hours you may experience dizziness. Maybe even feel some discomfort or muscle twitching along with pain in your lower legs. You might even feel heart palpitations. You may attribute these uneasy feelings to overexertion, perhaps too much walking. Well, this assumption might be partially correct. However, the combination of overexertion and lack of food and fluids has increased your body's need for electrolytes and has left you dehydrated.

Dehydration can have symptoms such as heart palpitations and leg cramps. The symptoms that are being experienced are symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance, which is a result of dehydration. Dehydration is just one of the culprits that can cause leg cramps.

Questions to Ask Yourself If You're Experiencing Leg Cramps

How often do you have leg cramps?

  1. I have leg cramps daily.
  2. Once in a while.
  3. My leg cramps never go away; I have constant pain.

If you answered one and three, you need to see a doctor.

Do you consider yourself a person who keeps your body well hydrated?

  1. Yes, I make sure to take in fluids throughout the day.
  2. As a rule, I try to take in the proper amount of fluids daily, although I sometimes have busy days and I forget to drink ample fluids.
  3. I am not on top of drinking water regularly. I know I don't take in the proper amount of fluids on a given day.

If you answered two or three, you need to make sure to drink more fluids during your busy day. It's recommended that you drink eight, 8oz glasses of water a day.

Do you skip meals?

  1. No, I do not.
  2. Yes, from time to time.
  3. I frequently skip meals.

If you answered three to this question, make an effort to eat at least two meals a day, and add a few healthy snacks in between meals.

Are you a person who is always on the go?

  1. Yes, I am always on the go.
  2. No, not really.
  3. I go in spurts. I have periods where my life is hectic and then periods where I'm sedentary.

Exercise is great, but if you answered one to this question, you still may be a candidate for leg cramps. If you are not eating properly, and taking in a proper amount of fluids, you can develop dehydration and all the nasty symptoms that accompany it.

This question is for those who are plagued with recurring leg cramps.

When you are experiencing leg cramps, are they accompanied by other symptoms, such as dizziness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or lethargy?

  1. Yes, I do experience some of these symptoms.
  2. No, I actually just have the leg cramps.
  3. This is a hard question, at times when I am having leg cramps I do have some of the above-mentioned symptoms. However, sometimes I just have leg cramps alone.

This question brings to light more severe cases of dehydration. If you answered one and three, you need to alter your daily eating and drinking habits. You are putting undue stress on your body by creating an electrolyte imbalance, which may lead to a more severe case of dehydration.

Helpful Tips to Stave off Leg Cramps

Hopefully, you will take steps to eat better, and make sure to drink enough fluids, especially on a busy or stressful day.

I would encourage my readers to include foods and fluids that contain the three important electrolytes that can help prevent problems with leg cramping. These three electrolytes, calcium, potassium, and sodium, are associated and proven to aid in building and maintaining both muscle and bone health. Most importantly, these electrolytes play a major role in keeping the hydration balance in the human body.

Let's discover the benefits of calcium, potassium, and sodium.

The Big Three: Calcium, Potassium, and Sodium

These are the three major electrolytes that can help maintain hydration balance in the human body.

To put it simply, electrolytes are pretty good at keeping themselves in balance. If a human is eating a healthy diet and staying hydrated, all should be well in regards to keeping their muscles in good health and pain-free. The trouble starts when the electrolytes are depleted.

So, where does the human body get electrolytes from? Electrolytes are supplied by what we eat, and drink. It's as simple as that. Calcium, potassium, and sodium are present what we consume. By making sure we eat well and drink ample amounts of water, we can maintain a good normal electrolyte balance, and hopefully, stave off dehydration and those painful leg cramps.

Bananas and other fruits are a great way to add more potassium to your diet.

Bananas and other fruits are a great way to add more potassium to your diet.

Recommended Daily Allowance of Potassium

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of potassium is 3500 milligrams.

If you are having leg cramps, and think your leg cramps might be due to dehydration, try to consume some foods that will beef up the big three electrolytes. You may be surprised how quickly those leg cramps disappear.

Foods High in Potassium

FruitsVegetablesNuts and GrainsMeat and Fish

Apples

Spinach

Bran

Cod

Apricots

Tomatoes

Wheat

Flounder

Bananas

Squash

Brown Rice

Sardines

Cantaloupe

Legumes

White Rice

Salmon

Figs

Lima Beans

Brazil Nuts

Chicken

Honeydew

Avocado

Peanuts With Skin

Turkey

Kiwi

Potatoes

 

Beef

Oranges

Celery

 

 

Peaches

Carrots

 

 

Prunes

Broccoli

 

 

Strawberries

Artichokes

 

 

Raisins

Asparagus

 

 

Watermelon

Cabbage

 

 

Dates

Corn

 

 

Papyas

Green Beans

 

 

 

Green Peppers

 

 

 

Lettuce

 

 

 

Onions

 

 

 

Pumpkin

 

 

 

Peas

 

 

 

Sweet Potatoes

 

 

Try to balance your intake of meat, dairy, and vegetables to help with cramping.

Try to balance your intake of meat, dairy, and vegetables to help with cramping.

Recommended Daily Amounts of Calcium

RDA for women:

  • Age 9–18 years: 1300 mg
  • Age 19–50 years: 1000 mg
  • Over the age of 50: 1200 mg

RDA for men:

  • Age 9–18 years: 1300 mg
  • Age 19–50 years: 1000 mg
  • Over the age of 50: 1200 mg

Foods High in Calcium

DairyVegetablesFishFast Food in a Pinch

Milk

Collard Greens

Fin Fish

Milk Shakes

Cheese

Rhubarb (frozen or fresh)

Sardines (drained with bones)

Beef Taco

Yogurt

Potatoes

 

Enchilada With Cheese

Skim Milk

Spinach (frozen or fresh)

Nachos

Soybeans

Cheeseburger

Turnip Greens

Tostada With Guacamole

Legumes

Hot Fudge Sundae

Sodium: A Little Goes a Long Way

The current RDA of sodium is to consume less than 2,400 milligrams (mg) a day. This is about one teaspoon of table salt per day. It includes all salt and sodium consumed, including sodium used in cooking and at the table.

Sodium is important for hydration, as well as for good health.

Sodium is one of the electrolytes that are very important for cell health and plays a key role in keeping the body hydrated. Sodium works by pushing water into cells, while potassium works by pushing waste out of cells. This balance between sodium, and potassium actually helps to prevent dehydration and promotes healthy cell function.

Sodium is especially important during physical activity, due to electrolytes being lost through active sweating. Adequate levels of sodium are needed to maintain this delicate balance in the body.

Sodium is prevalent in most foods; it's not hard to find foods that contain salt. However, in the case of dehydration, one needs a bit of salt, to replace what the body lost in its state of dehydration.

In a pinch grab a few potato chips. Salty snacks are a good way to replace sodium.

Healthy Sources of Sodium

Let's face it; sodium is abundant in processed foods. However, keep in mind most processed foods are also full of saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and preservatives. While these additives can be harmful to your health, it's possible to find processed foods that add sodium to your diet, without ruining your healthy diet. Salted nuts can provide healthy fats, protein, and fiber along with that needed sodium.

Items typically found in jars can provide sodium, while limiting calories. Foods such as dill pickles, olives, and salsas. Along with lightly salted whole wheat crackers can also provide sodium and healthy fiber.

Sodium and Sports Drinks

Sports drinks are specifically designed to combat the problem of sodium deficiency. If your diet contains adequate amounts of sodium, water is sufficient. However, once your activity level exceeds normal limits, and you deplete your sodium level, a sports drink will provide the electrolytes needed to restore hydration and cell function in a mild case of dehydration.

Leg Cramps From Overexertion

Naturally, one can overwork any given muscle group. The leg muscles can easily become overworked, and pain will occur in the leg if any leg muscle has been overused.

The most common culprit that can cause leg muscle pain from overuse is exercise. Especially a new form of exercise you're not used to, like a new Zumba class or a new regime of speed walking?

Leg muscles can even become sore due to new shoes. For example, as a rule, you may wear four-inch heels to work, and one day you decided to wear flat shoes to work. The change in the heel height or the change in arch support can wreak havoc on your leg muscles. By the end of the day, you may find that your legs are killing you! The following day, your legs may hurt even more. You have unintentionally overworked muscles in your legs, that you are not accustomed to working out.

This type of leg pain can most often be treated with over an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen, and a long soak in a hot tub.

If your discomfort lasts more than a week, I suggest you see a physician. You may have a muscle inflammation due to muscle damage.

Still Unsure of What's Causing Your Leg Cramps?

If you are still unsure of what is causing your leg cramps, I suggest keeping a diary. On the days you experience leg cramps, jot down what you did that day. For example, "I was shopping and on my feet for four hours."

Jot down what you ate and drank for the entire day. "I did not eat because I was so rushed today." Or, "I did not take time to eat, and drank only a small amount of fluids." Or, "I had a cup of coffee in the morning. I had a potato, steak, and green beans for dinner at 6 pm. In the evening, I had a few peanuts for a snack. My leg cramps subsided."

Make sure to jot down when your leg cramps subsided.

After you have entered a few days of what you have experienced with your leg cramps, check what you have logged in your diary. Do you see any correlation in the activity of the day and the food and fluids you consumed?

Did your cramps subside after you ate dinner, and were relaxing for the evening? If this is the case, your leg cramps most likely were caused by slight dehydration, brought on by a fluctuation in your electrolytes.

To stretch calf muscles, do a simple wall stretch.

To stretch calf muscles, do a simple wall stretch.

Muscle Tension: Let's Take the Crimp out of That Cramp

Massage

Massage the area very gently. This can help the muscle relax. (Never massage an area where you can physically feel any form of lump or nodule.)

Stretch

Attempt to slowly stretch the affected muscle. Try a wall stretch. Stand about three feet from the wall, with your knees straight and your heels on the floor. Now, lean into the wall, supporting yourself with your hands. You should feel your calf muscles stretching. Hold for 60 seconds, repeat three times.

Sip Fluids

If you develop leg camps that you can attribute to overexertion and dehydration, it's time to sip fluids. Sports drinks are an excellent option to help hydrate your body. Focus on eating and drinking foods and fluids that contain calcium, and potassium. Think bananas, oranges, milk, yogurt, perhaps even a turkey.

A Quick Question...

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Reader Feedback

Marg b on August 29, 2018:

Stop the sugar, even sugar in juice. I can have a little dessert right after dinner, because it mixes with my food. No leg cramps for many months.

Barbara on May 13, 2018:

My leg cramps start at my ankles and work their way up my leg. It’s both legs and happens 3-4 times a night

Alberto Romero on March 18, 2018:

I am a 93 year old man. I had open heart surgery 6 month ago, one bypass and one valve. I am taking Jantoven 2.5 MG, Clopidogrel 75 MG, Amiodaron 200 MG, Hydrochlrothia 25 MG. I am also taking vitamin C, D, E, Calcium, Spirulina, Garlic 100 MG! Lecithin 1200 MG, Curcumin 500 MG, Omega 3 1000 MG, Zinc 50 MG, Niacin 500 MG, Saw Palmeto 500 MG, Green tea 315 MG, B 12 500 MG,Folic acid 400 MG, Ubiquinol 100 MG, Potassium 99 MCG, Reservatrol 500 MG, Melatonin 10 MG, Moringa 5000 MG, QQ 10 200 MG, Royal Jelly 500 MG, Glucosamine 1500 MG, Sodium Bicarbonate 1/4 tea spoon, Vinegar 2 tea spoon, Magnesium 250 MG. For the last couple weeks I feel very bad, I get very tired walking and short of breath, my legs are swelling, I feel very weak. When I am resting I feel great. What canI I do. Can any one help me I don,t want to die yet. My e-mail Skipper9824@gmail.com

Sharlee (author) on February 08, 2018:

Thank you for your comment. As a nurse I learned a lot about how electrolytes play such an important part in keeping the body healthy. I have exsperenced first hand electrolyte imbalance due to to much sun, and lack of fluid. Which lead to leg cramps, and several other unpleasant side effects. Now, I am careful to stay hydrated and alternate sun and shade.

delores on February 08, 2018:

I loved this information on leg cramps. I can now relate to what causes them How dehydration places such an importance in the human body and drinking fluids is such a key to keep the electrolytes in balance. I am more conscious of the calcium, potassium and sodium. I will keep my diet and fluids on track along with a wellness program with exercise. Thank you

2hazelgreen on June 14, 2014:

@anonymous: Oh my God! I thought I was the only one who experienced that....what to DO when that happens tho? just gritting your teeth about it until it subsides isn't enough.

angelface115 on April 28, 2014:

@anonymous: I use to have bad heel pain in the left heel and I had to finally see a foot doctor who was able to get rid of it. It wasn't easy but it can be done. Should not let heel pain get to bad.

CarLou on December 27, 2013:

Good information. I would only add, Don't use plain old table salt, most of the minerals are removed in processing. Use a high quality Sea Salt. Make sure it has color, not bleached white like you find from your typical grocery shelve. " Real Salt" online or in Health food stores, is a good one. It is full of important trace nutrients that our bodies need. Salt is important for " Life" but the cheap stuff will hurt you.

anonymous on August 30, 2013:

I have DVT. I love hot baths and the legs cramps start after I have been in the bath for 30 minutes or more in both legs. However, the DVT is only in one leg.

anonymous on July 18, 2013:

@anonymous: I have discovered that if I eat Ice cream at night I experience several bouts of extremely painful leg cramps .

anonymous on July 10, 2013:

Informative, comprehensive and helpful. Many thanks.

anonymous on July 05, 2013:

Hi, It would be good to also mention people to check and see if leg cramps are a result of medication side effects. I am pretty sure that is my problem.

anonymous on June 22, 2013:

@anonymous: Having leg cramps at night and during the day. Do you think this item would help? Is it expensive? We have a Hi-Health here, so will check into it.

anonymous on June 15, 2013:

@PaulPd0: My seven year old grandson & I got leg cramps almost at the same time one night.

Can he use this "Stop Leg Cramps" med as well?

I had to drag out my heating pad & some "Tiger Balm" to make the pain go away. It kinda worked but it took a long time to suside.

anonymous on June 05, 2013:

@Zach Spangler: what kind of mustard? the kind you use for hotdogs? or powder for cooking?

anonymous on May 31, 2013:

I have been having extreme leg cramps lately. I drink tonic water to help I also drink several bottles of water per day, try to eat small breakfast, but more for lunch and dinner. We have had girls night out, and it seems that if I drink alcohol, the cramps are worse. I talked to my dr and he said to cut out all alcohol. I have had nothing alcohol for 3 days, and the cramps are still as bad if not worse! The best relief is from them is using a heating pad and drinking tonic water.

anonymous on May 31, 2013:

@anonymous: I take the same thing. It isn't as strong as the quinine I used to get, but since that has been taken off the market, this is next best. I have to use heat also. I have been having more cramps lately.

anonymous on May 30, 2013:

This is great information. I do remember my aunt getting lots of leg cramps but she never said what the doctor told her to do, apart from eating bananas, which I now know are a source of potassium. This is definitely bookmarked, thank you so much.

anonymous on May 26, 2013:

@James1978: phyllis,i took the quiz and missed one.i have gotten bad cramps all this month ,at night when i try to sleep.after i fall to sleep,i stay up most of the night because of the pain.5/26/13

anonymous on May 15, 2013:

I take a product simply called leg cramps. has quinine in it. purchased at a health food store.

ConvenientCalendar on May 13, 2013:

Great tips!

anonymous on May 09, 2013:

I have friends who take Rennie's when they have cramps . Never heard of that as a remedy .

anonymous on May 02, 2013:

@RinchenChodron: My mother had severe leg cramps. She drank bourbon and wine daily, and always had a dessert at night. I now (being 60) have leg cramps ONLY when I either have both alcohol and sugar at night...or overeat. Never any other time, as I know I get enough water and minerals. Eating sensibly and in moderation, getting plenty of water, both macro and micro!

anonymous on April 21, 2013:

My leg cramps are caused by dairy.

anonymous on April 16, 2013:

Nice ways to get rid of leg cramps!

anonymous on April 13, 2013:

You really should concentrate more on the possibility of blood clots (DVT). It's a dangerous condition and everyone should be more aware of it.

anonymous on March 19, 2013:

I take Apple Cider Vinegar caplets daily as I found the liquid hard on my teeth. It not only helps leg cramps but also take care of my pesky Heart burn.

anonymous on March 10, 2013:

I have been taking more laxatives lately. I wonder if that might be related to an electrolyte imbalance, and the leg cramps.

anonymous on February 23, 2013:

I used to have a lot of cramps on my legs, every night getting worse! NO MORE. Last year I had DaVinci Surgery to remove my many-big FIBROIDS, now the fibroids don't take all my magnesium, iron, ... my periods are back to normal, i used to bleed a lot. THANKS TO THE OPERATION I HAVE NO MORE CRAMPS!!! I hope this help to those women with the same problems.

anonymous on February 20, 2013:

@anonymous: I agree with you about dairy products causing cramps. I have stopped all dairy and find the slightest bit causes cramps to reoccur.

anonymous on February 17, 2013:

I get leg cramps and pulled back toe cramps almost every night. I massage the cramps with LaKota which helps somewhat and my husband also massages them for me when I wake him up with the pain. Sometimes it really is unbearable. And I do eat 3 regular healthy meals a day and am hydrated throughout the day, so I am baffled - next call - to doctor.

anonymous on February 11, 2013:

My mom, 80 years old, was suffering from debilitating leg cramps most nights. She is 1 month from a hysterectomy for a prolapsed uterus and she hasn't had a leg cramp since! We tried supplements, neurologists, chiropractors, acupuncture. Never would we have imagined the hysterectomy would treat this. Any woman suffering from leg cramps that have bore children, need to see if it could be a prolapsed uterus.

anonymous on January 21, 2013:

I I had leg cramps 2-3 times a week. Your site made me realize that electrolyte imbalance is one of the culprits. The last time, I had diarrhea (x3) and did not replace the lost fluids. I tried to replace the fluids with Coconut water and did not have the leg cramps agatin. Coco water also contains electrolytes Thanks for all the tips.

anonymous on December 03, 2012:

@Nanciajohnson: Right on, whoever asked about alcohol consumption and leg cramps. My husband gets horrible cramps after drinking a fair amount af red wine, but no reaction after drinking rum, scotch etc. Hydration with water is the best and the most natural remedy but not so much after the fact.

Nikki58 on November 23, 2012:

good info here. legs don't cramp exactly but one aches quite a bit around the left knee. My mom has arthritis so figured I am following her.

CristianStan on November 09, 2012:

This was a really informational lens for me, because I frequently suffer from foot cramps, I will make sure that I drink extra amounts of water every day

Lil55 on November 08, 2012:

Good lens, thank you for sharing

anonymous on November 04, 2012:

great lens :)

anonymous on October 21, 2012:

l have foot & ankle cramps what can l do form it

anonymous on September 02, 2012:

Honest! Take a tablespoon of mustard and cramps relax within one minute.

anonymous on August 30, 2012:

This was very informative. I don't necessarily have cramps; more like a tightening in both calves. I thought it was from not moving around or sitting funny but the other night, I ate some icing and 1 hour later I could feel one calf tightening and getting twitchy. The next day, it was both of them. I'm trying to drink more water and avoid too much sugar but man, it really hurts!! It feels marginally better when I lift my legs up and rest them on something. I really hope the advice on this lens helps over the next few days.

anonymous on August 27, 2012:

@anonymous: I have the same problem as you do you have any idea why its so bad, it wakes me in the night too its so painful?

anonymous on August 18, 2012:

Excellent article that was bang on for my wife. Thank you.

anonymous on August 10, 2012:

FANTASTIC SUMMATION AND RESEARCH PERFECT LENS!!!

anonymous on August 07, 2012:

Thanks for the good info. I now see more plainly the connection to what one eats and drinks, and leg cramps. I now know how to change my eating habits.

anonymous on June 19, 2012:

Hi my names cory i drink lots of water and eat at least 2

Times a day but i still get massive upper leg cramps.

Any othere explinations?

anonymous on June 12, 2012:

Have a banana a day, and your cramps will vanish. I suffered badly until I started eating a banana each day. Please try it.

anonymous on May 26, 2012:

In my case, when either sitting or in bed, should I move my feet in a way that pulls on the calve mussels, even gently, they go into a tightening that unless I get up and put my weight on my feet, I feel they might pull themselves apart. It's excruciating, but I don't believe it has to do with what I eat or anything else offered here. My Dad had the same issue, and it would seem I now have that same issue. Simply turning the ankle or stretching the feet can bring it on. I've got but a few seconds before they explode.

Best regards

anonymous on September 03, 2011:

Am I the only one who gets relief - at least during the day - by wearing support stockings? My legs then feel less hot and swollen

anonymous on September 03, 2011:

I suffer from night leg cramps - not joint pain - however, when i was on holidays in Europe this past month - no leg cramps - could it be because of the higher sodium (table salt) content in the food?

Don't see anybody mentioning alcohol - I know this is a contributor to gout but does it contribute to leg cramps at all?

miaponzo on February 09, 2011:

Doing hair analysis can help people find out what's wrong with them.. check out my hair analysis lens!

anonymous on October 16, 2010:

Excellent information, well presented and very thorough! Impressive work, obviously you know your subject well and it shows! The quiz was a nice touch, 92%, should have gone to my doctor! My pleasure for sure!

RinchenChodron on December 08, 2009:

Great lens - blessed by an Angel! Please list it in the plexo on my angel lens. My leg cramps are between my knees and my crotch and hurt like he-- I have found out recently that this is the liver-gallbladder meridian. I have known about potassium for a long time.