Muscle spasms in your legs can be brutally painful. They often strike with no warning in the middle of the night but can hit you at any point of the day. Muscle spasms and leg cramps are commonly referred to as charley horse.
As painful as these cramps are, they are usually short lived episodes but if you are prone to regular leg cramps, you may need to make certain dietary and lifestyle changes. Fortunately, there are also plenty of natural remedies that can help you treat your cramps and recover quicker.
What are Leg Cramps?
Muscle spasms and leg cramps are involuntary contractions in the muscles. During a leg cramp, one of your leg muscles such as the calf tighten up without you doing anything and because they cannot relax, they remain in this tightened state for some time. Leg cramps are common in the calve, hamstrings and quads while muscle cramps can occur virtually anywhere in the body.
What Causes Cramps?
It is not easy to pinpoint the cause of muscle cramps and they may occur as a result of several factors. Recognizing which of the following factors are causing your cramp will help you to avoid them in the future.
- Exercise. Overusing the muscles and muscle injuries can cause leg cramps.
- Cold temperatures. Cold weather and exposure to very cold water can cause muscle cramps.
- During Pregnancy. During pregnancy, especially in the later stages, women may be lacking in certain minerals like calcium or magnesium. A lack of these important minerals can cause leg cramps. A deficiency in these minerals can cause cramps in people regardless of pregnancy.
- Dehydration. Insufficient fluid in the body can result in leg cramps.
- Alcohol. Drinking a lot of alcohol can dehydrate the body resulting in leg cramps often during the night.
- Certain Medical Conditions. A number of medical problems including thyroid disease, kidney disease and blood flow complaints can cause leg and other muscle cramps.
- Body Positions. Sitting in the same position or standing on hard surfaces for long periods can result in cramp as can sleeping with your legs in uncomfortable positions.
- Certain Medications. Anti-psychotic drugs, statins, steroids and birth control pills are all known to increase the prevalence of cramp.
Natural Treatments for Leg Cramps
1. Stay well-hydrated
Since leg cramps are often caused by dehydration, making certain that you are always adequately hydrated is a simple solution. In order to prevent your body from becoming dehydrated, you should drink plenty of water.
The recommended amount of eight glasses of water eight times each day may be enough but depending on your size and activity levels, you may need more. Other factors like very hot weather, exercise and sickness increase the amount of water we lose through sweat and you should make sure that you are getting even more water into your system.
It is also important to drink plenty of water after you have been drinking alcohol to avoid becoming dehydrated.
2. Stretch your Muscles
Regular exercise helps keep your body fit and well and can also go some way towards preventing leg cramps. Physically fit people are less prone to muscle cramps because they tend to have better toned muscles, more flexibility and less inflammation.
However, it is vital that you warm up properly before exercise and just as important that you perform a proper cool-down once you have finished. A thorough warm-up and cool-down routine protects the muscles against fatigue, strains and pulls.
There are plenty of effective warm-up exercises that you can do before your workout. Five minutes of well-performed stretching exercises or just jogging in place for a few minutes can help prevent cramp and injury by stimulating the flow of blood to your muscles, joints and tendons.
Many people forgo cooling down completely or give it very little thought. Make sure that you take cooling down just as seriously as your warm-up routine. If you spend at least 10 minutes stretching your legs and other major muscles after exercise, your muscles will become stronger in general and less prone to cramp.
Stretching for Leg Cramp
Cramps in the calves are especially painful. I have been woken up from the pain many times in my life. This stretching exercise can be done as soon as you feel the pain coming on.
- Sit comfortably with your legs immediately in front of your body and pull the tops of your feet towards you.
- Try to hold the position for a few seconds before relaxing.
For cramps in your thighs:
- Stand upright and bend the affected leg under your backside.
- Grab the foot and pull it gently upwards towards your back while stretching the thigh in front of you.
3. Essential Oil Massage
Simply massaging the affected areas of your legs can help treat your cramp but adding essential oils to the mix can be even more beneficial.
Among the best essential oils for relieving leg cramps are lavender, marjoram, peppermint, ginger, wintergreen and fennel but there are many more options.
Before massaging essential oils into your body, be sure to dilute them with a suitable base oil like sweet almond or coconut oil.
4. Epsom Salt
A bath with good old Epsom salt can help you treat leg cramps as well other muscle cramps. This therapeutic salt is very rich in magnesium which is absorbed into the skin when you bathe in it. Epsom salt can help prevent a deficiency in magnesium while soothing the muscles, easing stress and aiding the detoxification process.
Stress and magnesium deficiency both contribute to muscle tightness and cramp so a soothing Epsom salt bath is the ideal solution.
Simply add a cupful of Epsom salt to your warm water, stir well, lie back and allow them to to their work.
5. Apply Heat to your Muscles
If you are suffering from a painful leg cramp or you want to prevent it from occurring after exercise, applying heat to the affected area can help a great deal. If you don’t have a heat pad, you can use a hot or warmed towel on your legs. Another way to apply heat is to sit in a hot bath, a steam room or a sauna.
6. Apply a Cold Compress
Following heat treatment, you can apply a cold compress to further relieve your leg cramp. The icy cold temperatures numb your pain, reduce any inflammation and help the muscles further relax.
- The easiest way to do this is by wrapping a towel around some ice cubes and holding it against your leg for 10 or 15 minutes.
7. Yellow Mustard
Swallowing down a teaspoon of yellow mustard can be used as an effective remedy for leg and other muscle cramps. It has acetic acid which can promote the production of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Because of this, yellow mustard helps relax the muscles and relieve any pain.
8. Blackstrap Molasses
Blackstrap molasses can help overcome mineral deficiencies that are often the cause of leg cramps. It is an excellent source of potassium and calcium which help strengthen the muscles and reduce the incidence of cramp.
If you are suffering from a painful leg cramp:
- Mix a tablespoon of your blackstrap into a glassful of warm milk or water.
- Drinking a glass a day can also provide you with sufficient potassium to help prevent cramps from occurring in the future.
9. Vitamins and Minerals
Muscle cramps are often caused by magnesium or potassium deficiencies. Leg cramps may occur more frequently if you fail to refuel after exercise, your menstrual cycle is approaching or you have a diet lacking in these minerals.
Apart from a lack of important minerals, there is evidence that a diet deficient in the B vitamins may also contribute to leg cramp. Try adding more vitamin B to your diet by eating plenty of grains, legumes, grass fed meats and wild fish.
10. Improve Your Posture
It goes without saying that many of us suffer from poor posture. We tend to spend hours slouched over a computer or slouched in place on the sofa. Many people and I include myself have poor posture when running or walking and all of these factors can contribute to muscle tightness and ensuing cramps.
Try to focus on your posture when working or relaxing and you can try to improve your exercise posture by following recommended practice.