Why Is My Leg Cramping? What Can Help?

You could be out for a run or drifting off to sleep when it happens: The muscles of your calf or foot suddenly become hard, tight, and painful. You are having a muscle cramp.

How can you stop it and prevent another one from happening?

Sometimes called “charley horses” -- particularly when they’re in the calf muscles – cramps are caused by muscle spasms – involuntary contractions of one or more muscles.

Almost everyone gets a muscle cramps, which come without warning. What causes them, and what can you do to relieve them?

What Causes Muscle Cramps?

Many things can trigger a muscle cramp. They include:

Muscle cramps can also occur as a side effect of some drugs. Medications that can cause muscle cramps include:

Leg Stretches That May Help

For a charley horse in the calf or a cramp in the back of the thigh (hamstring), try this stretch: Put your weight on the affected leg and bend your knee slightly. Or, sit or lie down with your leg out straight and pull the top of your foot toward your head.

For a cramp in the front of the thigh (quadriceps), hold on to a chair to steady yourself and pull your foot back toward your buttock.

You can also massage the muscle, ice it, or try taking a bath with Epsom salt.

Can I Prevent Them?

To help stop cramps before they start:

When Should I Call the Doctor?

In most cases, you can take care of a leg cramp. It will likely stop within minutes. But if you get them often and for no clear reason, tell your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on March 31, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery: "Muscle Cramp."

Northwestern Health Sciences University: "Charley Horses -- Why Do I Get Them and How Can I Stop Them?"

LECOM College of Osteopathic Medicine: "Muscle cramp -- A common pain."

National Library of Medicine: "Muscle Cramps."

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