Aches & PainsAlternative MedicineChildren's HealthDisabilitiesDisease, Illness & ConditionsEye CareFirst AidHealth Care IndustryInjuriesMental HealthOlder AdultsOral HealthReproductive HealthWellness

What Causes Leg Cramps and How to Get Rid of Them

Updated on June 12, 2017
Sharlee01 profile image

A Michigan native, I worked as a registered nurse for 22 years. I enjoyed nursing, but I decided to retire some years ago.

Source

What Causes Leg Cramps?

Are you plagued with intermittent leg cramps—and 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 given 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, it would be prudent to seek a medical opinion 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 take in a bit of fluids. 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 slight heart palpitations. You may attribute these uneasy feelings to overexertion, perhaps to 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. The lack of food and fluids has depleted the your electrolytes. This depletion has left you dehydrated. The state of dehydration has created symptoms, such as heart palpitations and leg cramps.The symptoms that are being experienced are true symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance which was a result of dehydration. Dehydration is just one of the culprits that can cause leg cramps. Now, a couple question. Along with some helpful suggestions.

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 1 and 3 you need to see a doctor.

Do you consider yourself a person that 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 have busy days that I forget to drink ample fluids.

3. I am not a drinker, I know I don't take in the proper amount of fluids on a given day.

The second common factor that can cause leg cramps is an electrolyte imbalance, which leads to dehydration. if you answered 2 or 3 you need to make sure to drink more fluids during your busy day. Its recommended one drink eight 8 oz. glasses of water a day.

Do you skip meals?

1. No, I do not.

2. Yes, from time to time.

3. Always, I am a big meal skipper.

If you answered 3 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 that 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 sedentary periods.

Exercise is great, but if you answered 1 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 dehydration.

This question is for those that are plagued with reoccurring leg cramps.

When you are experiencing leg cramps, are they accompanied by other symptoms, such as: dizziness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, 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 is to bring to light the more severe cases of dehydration. If you answered 1 and 3 you need to alter your daily eating, and drinking habits. You are putting your body through undo stress of 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 very 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 good muscle health, along with good bone health. However, 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.

Calcium, Potassium, and Sodium: The Big Three

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

To put it simply, electrolytes as a rule do pretty well on their own, keeping themselves in good balance, as a rule. If a human is eating a healthy diet, and taking in fluids, all should be well in regards to keeping once muscles in good health,well hydrated, and pain free. The trouble starts when the electrolytes are depleted.

A good example, the day you decides to not eat breakfast, and headed out for a day of activity. In the middle of the day, your body may crave sodium. However, has not received an adequate amount.

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 in the foods, and fluids we take in. By making sure we eat well, and take in ample fluids, we can maintain a good normal electrolyte balance, and hopefully stave off dehydration, and those painful leg cramps that can accompany dehydration.

Bing Free to use and share
Bing Free to use and share

Food Sources for Potassium

Recommended Daily Allowance of potassium (RDA) = 3500 milligrams

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

Here are some other good food choices that can provide your body lots of potassium.

Fruits: Apples, apricots,bananas, cantaloupe, figs, honeydew, kiwi, oranges, orange juice, peaches, prunes, strawberries, tomatoes, raisins, prunes, watermelon,

Vegetables: Spinach, Squash, Vegetable Juices, legumes, winter Squash, lima beans, avocados, potatoes, celery, carrots, broccoli, artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, corn, dates, green beans, green peppers, Iceberg lettuce, kidney beans, onions, papayas, parsley, pumpkin, peas, romaine lettuce, sweet potato.

Nuts: brazil nuts, roasted peanuts with skin

Fish: Cod, flounder, sardines, salmon

Poultry: chicken, turkey

Meat: beef

Grains: bran, wheat, brown rice, white rice, wheat bread

Bing Free to use and share
Bing Free to use and share

Food Sources for Calcium

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for women:

  • Age 9 to 18 years: 1300 mg
  • Age 19 - 50 years: 1000 mg
  • Over Age 51 years: 1200 mg

RDA for men:

  • Age 9 to 18 years: 1300 mg
  • Age 19 - 50 years: 1000 mg
  • Over Age 51 years: 1200 mg

Good food sources for calcium:

Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt, plain, skim milk, wheat bread, cereals (most cereals have calcium added)

Vegetables

Collards, frozen, chopped

Rhubarb, frozen or fresh

Potatoes

Spinach, frozen, chopped or leaf

Soybeans,

Turnip greens, frozen, cooked

Spinach, cooked or raw

Collards, cooked or fresh

Blackeyed peas, cooked, boiled,

white potatoes,

Fast Foods: Need Calcium in a pinch

Milk Shakes

taco beef

enchilada, with cheese

nachos, with cheese

cheeseburger

Tostada with guacamole

sundae, hot fudge

Fish: finfish, sardine (Atlantic, canned in oil, drained solids with bone)

Bing Free to use and share
Bing Free to use and share

Sodium: A Little Goes A Long Way

The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for sodium is to consume less than 2,400 milligrams (mg) a day. This is about 1 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 to push water into cells, while potassium does its job of 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 fats, Trans fat, along with 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 healthful eating efforts. 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 the norm, 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.

Bing Free to use and share
Bing Free to use and share

Leg Cramps That Are Due To Overexertion

Naturally one can over work any given body muscle. The leg muscle's can easiest become overworked, and pain will most often occur in the leg, if any leg muscle has had undo strain or has been over-used.

The most common culprit that can cause leg muscle pain from overuse is, exercise. Especially a form of exercise that is new to the body. "The new Zumba class or perhaps you just started a new regime of speed walking?

Leg muscles can even become sore due to a new shoe style. For example, as a rule you may wear a four inch heel to work, and one day you decided to wear a "flat shoe" to work. The change in the heel height or the change in arch support can play havoc with leg muscles. By the end of the day, you may find that your legs are "killing you"! The following day, your legs hurt even more. You have unintentionally over worked muscles in your legs, that as a rule just don't get a work out.

This type of leg pain can most often be treated with over the counter "Motrin", and a long hot soak in the 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.

Bing Free to use and share
Bing Free to use and share

Unsure What's Causing Your Leg Cramps?

If you are unsure of what is causing your leg cramps, I have a suggestion.

Keep a diary. On the days you experience leg cramps, jot down what you did that day. For example: "I was shopping, on my feet for four hours."

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

Bing Free to use and share
Bing Free to use and share

Muscle Tension - let's take the crimp out of that cramp.

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.)

S-t-r-e-t-c-h. 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 3 times.

Sip fluids - If you develop leg camps that you can attribute to overexertion, and dehydration, it's time to sip fluids. Sports drinks or orange juice are good options 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...

Did this lens help you understand how leg cramps can be caused by what you eat and drink, and your daily activity?

See results

Reader Feedback

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 7 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      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!

    • profile image

      miaponzo 6 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      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?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      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?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      FANTASTIC SUMMATION AND RESEARCH PERFECT LENS!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @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?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      great lens :)

    • profile image

      Lil55 4 years ago

      Good lens, thank you for sharing

    • profile image

      CristianStan 4 years ago

      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

    • profile image

      Nikki58 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Nice ways to get rid of leg cramps!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      My leg cramps are caused by dairy.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @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!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      ConvenientCalendar 4 years ago

      Great tips!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @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

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      Informative, comprehensive and helpful. Many thanks.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      CarLou 3 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      angelface115 3 years ago

      @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.

    • profile image

      2hazelgreen 3 years ago

      @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.

    Click to Rate This Article