What causes leg cramps and how to get rid of them

Have you woken in the middle of the night to a deep aching and pain in your legs? You’re not alone as leg cramps are very common (in fact 1 in 3 over 60s have had them at least once), but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer.

Here’s how they’re caused, prevention and how to relieve the pain.


Causes of leg cramps

They can be caused by many conditions, including dehydration, up to something as serious as kidney disease, according to physical therapist Matthew Hyland, president of the New York Physical Therapy Association. “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”.

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Leg cramps are often confused with RLS (restless leg syndrome) however they are not linked. RLS is a different and more serious, chronic condition where you feel discomfort and persistent throbbing and pulling sensations in your legs.


Relieving the pain

There are a few different ways you can soothe a sore leg that is cramped. While it may be painful, getting up and moving around may actually ease cramping of the muscle. Stretching and massaging the muscle also can calm down a clenched calf, as can analgesic or heat balm. It’s not recommended to take painkillers because they don’t help quickly enough, although it may make you feel better if the muscle tenderness is prolonged. If cramps persist for more than 5 to 10 minutes, or occur more than a couple of times a week, consult your doctor.


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It is crucial that as we age, we continue to exercise and strengthen our bodies, as they are not as resilient as they used to be. Keeping your fluids up is also incredibly important for not only preventing cramps, but also overall health and wellbeing. We struggle to retain water like we did when we were younger so it’s important to drink water even if you don’t feel thirsty

Stretching exercises can help to reduce the severity and number of cramps. Give them a try if you can, for about five minutes three times per day before bed. All you need is a wall to lean on. Stand about 60-90 cm from a wall whilst keeping the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Then bend forward and lean on the wall to feel a stretch in your calf muscles.

Your position when you rest is also important to preventing your muscles cramping. Here are a few tips from Patient:

  • Using a pillow to prop your feet up in bed while sleeping on your back.
  • Hang your feet over the end of the bed while sleeping on your front.
  • Keep blankets loose at the foot of the bed to prevent toes and feet from pointing downwards during sleep.

Tell us, do you suffer from leg cramps? How do you relieve the pain?