Although leg cramps can be temporarily debilitating and extremely painful, they usually do not indicate a serious medical condition.
Leg cramps involve a single muscle or a group of muscles that usually work together to move your leg.
Muscle cramps have four main causes:
- Vigorous Activity
- Rest Cramps
When your leg is injured, you may experience muscle spasms as they often act as a protective mechanism.
The spasm helps to minimize movement and stabilize the area of the injury. The injury may occur to the muscle itself or it could be a separate injury, such as a broken bone in the leg.
Cramps may also occur due to the vigorous use of muscles or as a result of muscle fatigue. The leg muscles may cramp during the activity or the cramps may occur later, even hours after the activity has ended.
Muscle fatigue can also occur after sitting or lying down for an extended period of time in an awkward position or during repetitive movements.
A common cause of leg cramps is dehydration, commonly caused by sweating during vigorous physical activities like playing sports or working outside on a hot day.
Leg cramps due to dehydration can often be a symptom of heatstroke if you are playing sports or working outside.
Poor fluid intake or taking diuretics can lead to leg cramps as well due to the depletion of fluids and electrolytes like sodium in the body.
While people of all ages can experience leg cramps during periods of rest, older people are more likely to have leg cramps during the night while they are trying to sleep.
The cause of these leg cramps is unknown, but they may be caused by movements that shorten the leg muscle, such as sleeping with your toes pointed down when in bed as this causes the calf muscle to be shortened.
Why Consider Natural Remedies for Leg Cramps?
For the most part, leg cramps are preventable and do not require medical intervention, so a doctor does not need to write a prescription for them.
There are many natural remedies that can be used to resolve issues with leg cramps, including stretching before engaging in vigorous physical activities and making sure to keep yourself hydrated if you plan to be outside on hot days.
Some dietary changes can also help reduce muscle cramps.
Natural Leg Cramp Remedies
As previously stated, leg cramps have four main causes: injuries, vigorous activity, dehydration and rest cramps.
The natural remedy you use to help resolve your leg cramps will depend on their cause. So, remedies for leg cramps caused by vigorous physical activity will have a slightly different remedy than nighttime leg cramps.
Remedies for Leg Cramps Due to Injury
Prevention is going to be the main remedy for leg cramps caused by injuries, especially injuries to the leg muscles.
Strained or pulled muscles are likely to cramp up, cause pain and make it difficult to move.
However, if you take the time to properly stretch your leg muscles before playing sports or working out, you will be less likely to have an injury.
Prior to working out or engaging in any vigorous activities, you can use essential oils to massage your leg muscles to help warm and stretch them to help prevent cramping.
Rosemary is a good oil to use prior to working out or engaging in a sport because it helps to warm your muscles and stretch them to achieve optimal performance.
If you’ve had muscle spasms in one of your legs due to an injury, you can relieve the spasms by using oils from basil, marjoram, cypress, lavender or peppermint to massage the area.
Peppermint oil is also good for helping relieve leg cramps and muscle fatigue as well. Lemongrass, marjoram, Roman chamomile, lavender and grapefruit oils will also help with leg muscle cramps.
Remedies for Leg Cramps Due to Physical Activity
It is fairly common for professional and amateur athletics to experience leg cramps during a sporting event.
However, much like cramps due to injuries, most leg cramps because of vigorous physical activities are preventable.
Warming up your leg muscles prior to any activity will help prevent cramps. You can warm your muscles by stretching them out and using essential oils to help warm them during your stretching routine.
Another factor in helping to prevent leg cramps when participating in any outdoor activities on a warm day is to keep properly hydrated.
Sweating profusely will drain your body of the electrolytes your muscles need to function properly.
The electrolytes that you sweat out include sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium and they work together to move fluids and water throughout your body, contract your muscles and perform many other functions.
When you feel thirsty, that is the electrolytes stimulating your thirst response so they stay in balance.
Before and during your activities, you should drink plenty of water to help prevent dehydration.
In addition to water, you can also consume sports drinks that have added electrolytes to help your body better absorb the liquids you’re drinking.
Do not drink soft drinks, tea or any other caffeinated drinks because they can act as mild diuretics, causing you to lose more fluids from your body.
If you are plagued by frequent leg cramps, some trainers recommend using deep tissue massage to help alleviate and prevent muscle cramps.
You can also use massage if you are in the midst of a muscle cramp while exercising or participating in outdoor activities. Use an essential oil for the massage to help warm and stretch the leg muscle that is cramping to provide relief.
Remedies for Leg Cramps Due to Dehydration
Whether or not dehydration causes muscle cramps is still up for debate in many medical circles because some studies have found no correlation between dehydration and muscle cramps.
However, if you’ve ever been outside working on a hot day and have sweated profusely, your body is depleting the fluids and electrolytes your muscles need to function properly.
Leg cramps due to dehydration may not set in right away. In fact, they may not hit you until a few hours after you’ve been inside resting, so the cause may not be obvious.
However, you can prevent muscle cramps due to dehydration by making sure to drink plenty of water and fluids before and during any outdoor activities.
More sodium is lost when we sweat than any other electrolyte and sodium depletion can lead to leg cramps.
Whether you are exercising or working outside, you need to consume fluids containing sodium, such as sports drinks.
In addition, you can also eat salty foods like pretzels to help make sure you are getting the sodium you need for your body.
However, if you have high blood pressure, be careful about consuming too much salt.
Remedies for Rest Leg Cramps
Many people, especially older people, experience leg cramps while they are resting. It isn’t uncommon for them to be awakened in the middle of the night due to the intense pain of leg cramps, sometimes referred to as “Charley horses.”
While there is no common cause for nighttime leg cramps, the use of some medications like diuretics, beta-blockers, and statins may lead to the problem.
In addition, the position of your legs while you’re sleeping can also cause leg cramps during the middle of the night.
To help prevent nighttime leg cramps, some doctors suggest consuming a sports drink before going to bed to make sure your body has the electrolytes it needs to function properly.
If you do take diuretics, this is important because you do lose electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and calcium when you urinate.
If your leg cramps are frequent and you are on a diuretic, you should consult your physician and have your electrolyte levels checked.
Low levels of magnesium, which is an electrolyte, can also lead to muscle cramps. This mineral helps to move potassium and sodium in and out of cells and it is found in cells and your bones.
To help maintain the proper level of magnesium in your body, you can add foods like dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds, avocados, and bananas to your diet.
Bananas are also high in potassium, so it is a good food to eat to maintain the electrolytes in your body.
Sleeping with your toes pointed or legs curled up can sometimes lead to nighttime leg cramps as well.
When the muscles are shortened, they stiffen up and if you try to stretch them out, they can cramp up on you.
Try to sleep with your legs stretched out and your feet relaxed to help prevent cramping.
You can also try stretching your leg muscles by doing standing calf stretches or using essential oils to warm them up with a massage before retiring for the night.
Some people with certain medical conditions may also experience leg cramps while resting.
If you have arthritis, diabetes or a circulation problem in your legs, you can experience painful leg cramps.
For these conditions, you can try massaging your leg muscles with essential oils to help keep them warm and stretched out, plus massages help improve your circulation.
Other Natural Leg Cramp Remedies
While not all remedies work for every person, some of these home remedies have helped people prevent or resolve painful leg cramps.
Drinking Pickle Juice
Professional athletes have been drinking pickle juice for years to help prevent muscle cramps and there is research to back up this home remedy.
While the research on the effect of pickle juice on the leg and other muscle cramps began decades ago, a 2013 study showed pickle juice can help relieve, as well as prevent muscle cramps.
The study found when a muscle cramp occurred and a small amount of pickle juice was consumed, you only need to drink about two ounces, the cramps were shortened by as much as 49 seconds.
Consume Fermented Foods
Many people have claimed that eating fermented foods has helped to relieve painful leg cramps and kept them away for days.
Some of the foods mentioned include kimchi, which is a Korean fermented cabbage dish, sauerkraut, and pickles.
Other fermented foods that may also help include kefir, miso, and yogurt. Fermented foods help introduce micro-organisms into your body that help it absorb and digest nutrients.
Pinching Your Lip
Some people have found relief for their leg muscle cramps by using acupressure. If you experience a leg cramp, try firmly pinching your upper lip with your thumb and forefinger and maintain a constant pressure.
Within 20 to 30 seconds, your leg cramp should subside, but some people keep pinching for a couple of minutes to ensure their leg cramp goes away.
Apple Cider Vinegar Cure
One of the best ingredients to keep in your pantry for home remedies is apple cider vinegar as it is used for many different problems, including leg cramps.
If you are suffering from a painful cramp, you can drink some unfiltered apple cider vinegar and get relief within about 30 to 60 seconds, though you may have some heartburn afterward.
To help keep leg cramps from occurring, add two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar to a large glass of water and mix well. You can drink this solution twice a day to prevent leg cramps.
The Yellow Mustard Solution
Although no one is quite sure why it works, many people swear by taking a spoonful of yellow mustard when they get leg cramps.
After they ingest the mustard the cramps usually subside within a minute or two. While some people think it is the turmeric in the mustard that helps to relieve muscle cramps, others suggest it could be the vinegar and/or salt that helps them.
A Baking Soda Solution
When you experience leg cramps, try mixing a teaspoon of baking soda with a liter of water and drinking it to help relieve the contractions and pain.
You can also use 1/4 teaspoon in an eight-ounce glass of water if you don’t want to prepare an entire liter.
It is believed that baking soda acts as an antacid to help block the lactic acid released by the cramping muscles.
More Acupressure Help
Acupressure can be used to relieve many problems, including muscle cramps in the legs. As previously mentioned, some people have found that pinching the upper lip can help stop painful leg cramps.
Another spot to try applying pressure to is the skin between the big toe and the next one to it. Pinch firmly and hold it for several seconds until the cramp subsides.
While some people refer to it as the bone between their nostrils, it is actually cartilage that you can press when you experience a leg cramp.
Using your index finger, firmly press it into the cartilage at the tip of your nose for a few seconds and the pain should subside quickly.
An energy technique used by Chinese medicine practitioners that you can use during a leg cramp is to place a hand about five inches from the muscle that is cramping with the palm of your hand facing the cramp.
Place your other hand just below the belly button with the palm facing the belly button.
Leave your hands in place for a minute or two as your imagine energy flowing up your arm from the cramping muscle and down your other arm to help relieve the leg cramp.
Placing a Bar of Soap in Bed
While it may seem silly to some people, many others swear by this home remedy to help prevent leg cramps from waking them at night.
Place a bar of soap, no specific type is needed, under your bottom bed sheet. When you start having a cramp, you can place your leg on top of the soap and it will stop the cramp from occurring. Change out the soap every month or so to help keep your cramps at bay.
Do What is Best for You
Depending on your health and what you are doing at the time, leg cramps can strike at any time.
One of the best ways to keep them at bay is to keep your body dehydrated and eat a healthy diet that includes foods containing magnesium, potassium, calcium, and sodium.
Keeping the electrolytes in your body balanced can usually help keep leg and other muscle cramps away no matter their cause.
If you have tried some of these natural home remedies for your leg cramps and nothing is helping, you may need to visit your doctor to check your electrolyte levels.
In addition, have the circulation in your legs checked for any vascular problems. Try not to add any supplements to your diet without having your electrolyte and mineral levels checked as overusing some supplements can be dangerous.
Instead, adjust your diet and try drinking more water to prevent dehydration that can lead to muscle cramps. Also, stretch your leg muscles before working out to help keep leg cramps from occurring.