Sometimes also called a charley horse, a leg cramp is an involuntary contraction of one the leg muscles. Over half of adults and a small percentage of children experience leg cramps on a regular basis. While some cramps might only last a few moments, others can go on for several painful minutes.
When they’re experienced regularly, leg cramps can significantly impede an individual’s quality of life.
Here are some commonly prescribed medicine for leg cramps:
What Causes Leg Cramps?
Unfortunately, there is no single direct cause for leg cramps and muscle cramps, and some doctors might not be able to locate the source. The cause of a leg cramp can often depend on where the muscle is located and how long it lasts.
One common issue that might contribute to cramping (especially calf cramps) is the way that someone sleeps. Stretching out the foot can shorten the calf muscle, which can lead to occasional nighttime leg cramps.
Exercise can be another culprit. Stressing certain areas in the leg during an exhausting workout can cause leg cramps to occur afterward. Professional athletes often deal with cramps at the start of a season since their bodies aren’t used to the exertion.
Dehydration can also play a role in how frequently leg cramps occur. Someone who exercises in hotter temperatures without taking in enough water might be more susceptible to leg cramps.
However, leg cramps aren’t always due to a lifestyle choice. In some cases, leg cramps might be a symptom or an effect of an underlying disease or condition. Addison’s Disease, alcohol abuse, cirrhosis, Parkinson’s Disease, peripheral artery disease (PAD), and sarcoidosis can all cause leg cramps. Most of the time, cramps aren’t indicative of a more serious illness or problem, and if it is, it’s likely not the only symptom.
Certain medications might also cause leg cramps as a side effect, or an interaction between medications could be the culprit.
How Do Leg Cramp Medications Work?
Leg cramp medications can work in different ways, depending on the type of drug. Muscle relaxers, for instance, have a sedative effect that depresses the central nervous system. While they aren’t typically prescribed for long-term use, muscle relaxers—like the name suggests—relax irritated muscles and help prevent those involuntary contractions.
Some medicines that may be used for leg cramps, like Benadryl, help the body relax and fall asleep without overstimulating muscles that may already be irritated.
If the cause of the leg cramp happens to be a deficiency with potassium or calcium, the medication might supply those nutrients to the blood-stream and prevent any more cramps from occurring.
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Nightly Cramping
Although the cause of leg cramps might not be completely clear, there are a few lifestyle changes that individuals can make to try and prevent leg cramps from occurring regularly. Before prescribing medication, many doctors begin by suggesting a few self-care measures first. Even with medication, these lifestyle changes can still be helpful.
One important lifestyle change is stretching. After an exhausting workout, taking a few minutes to stretch and cool down could make the muscle less irritated and prevent a cramp from happening later on. To stretch out the muscle, individuals can extend the affected leg or gently rub the area that feels the tightest. Certain yoga poses may also be helpful in stretching out tightly-wound leg muscles.
Similarly, massaging the calf muscles after stretching can not only help relieve the cramp while it’s happening but also prevent them in the future. Stretching the calfs and gently massaging them before bed can play a large role in whether or not the muscles cramp up during sleep.
Applying a heating pad or ice-pack might also be beneficial after exercising to prevent inflammation and help relax sore areas..
An easy way to keep muscle cramps or foot cramps from happening is staying hydrated. While dehydration isn’t always the main culprit, it can play a significant role. The muscles in the body require fluid in order to contract properly. Drinking water throughout the day can stop a charley horse from happening during the night. Fluid intake is especially crucial before and after exercise, since high levels of activity can be dehydrating.
A balanced diet is also important. A nutritional deficiency, like a lack of potassium or magnesium, can cause the legs to cramp up. By getting a balanced diet, an individual might be able to help reduce the risk of cramps.
Exercise can contribute to night cramps, but it can also help prevent them as well. As long as the muscles are getting stretched before and after the workout, leg cramps should be less likely to pop up.
Sitting for hours at a time, like at an office job, might cause cramps when the individual finally stands up or moves around. Walking around every hour (or more often) can prevent the muscles from getting irritated.
In some cases, leg cramps might be due to sleeping position. For instance, sleeping on the stomach with the legs extended might be causing the calf to cramp up in the middle of the night. If that’s the case, trying a new position—like curling the legs up toward the torso or sleeping on the back—might be all an individual needs to stop the cramps.
Our Final Say
Since the cause of nocturnal leg cramps or nighttime leg cramps is not always clear, treating the issue and finding pain relief can be challenging for doctors. While a muscle cramp might not be debilitating if it only lasts for a second, leg cramps or thigh cramps that occur regularly can severely impact an individual’s life. In addition to leg cramp meds, there are also several lifestyle changes that people can make in order to decrease the number of cramps they have.
Even just getting more nutrition, changing a sleeping position, or drinking more water can make all the difference in how often the cramps happen. However, getting advice and treatment from a doctor is always the most important step to take for dealing with leg pain.