Preventing leg cramps

It may not be necessary to prevent leg cramps if they are relatively mild, do not occur often, and/or pose an insignificant impact on the quality of life. However, individuals who frequently suffer from leg cramps may prefer to prevent them with a variety of methods.

Underlying causes

Initially, it is important to consider any underlying causes that may be contributing to the leg cramps and causing them to occur more often.

For example, several medications can lead to the presentation of leg cramps as a side effect. In many cases, an alternative is available that will not cause the same effects.

Additionally, certain medical conditions can increase the risk of leg cramps. When these underlying conditions are adequately managed, the symptoms of leg cramps will often resolve.

Dehydration is another common cause of leg cramps. In these cases, rehydrating with adequate fluids and electrolytes can help to restore the balance of salts in the bloodstream and prevent the leg cramps from occurring.

Stretching exercises

Stretching the calf muscles in the leg may help in the management of leg cramps when they occur, in addition to preventing the symptoms from beginning.

Considering the widespread nature of this recommendation, there is minimal scientific evidence to support the claim. However, many individuals find that these stretching exercises are effective in helping to prevent the cramp. Additionally, there is a low risk in performing these exercises.

Leg Cramp

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An example of a stretching exercise that can be used to treat leg cramps consists of standing approximately 75 centimeters (cm) away from a wall, depending on the height of the individual, and leaning towards the wall with feet flat on the ground, such that the calf muscles are extended. For the best results, it is recommended to stretch the muscles regularly, approximately three times a day, as needed.

It may take a few weeks for the benefits of the stretching exercises to become evident; therefore, it is recommended that the individual continues to complete these exercises, even if no effect is noticed immediately. If there is still no improvement after four weeks, other preventative measures may be required.

Prevention of nocturnal cramps

For individuals who suffer from leg cramps at night when they are sleeping, small changes to the sleeping position can help to prevent the cramps.

These changes primarily promote the extension of the calf muscles, based on the belief that the cramps are being caused by the stimulation of an already shortened muscle to contract further. To lessen the extent that the feet point downwards and shorten the calf muscles during sleep, it may be helpful to:

  • Prop the feet up with a pillow
  • Keep blankets loose around the feet
  • Hang the feet over end of bed while sleeping face down

Similar to the stretching exercises, there is little scientific evidence to support this preventative measure; however, many individuals have reported positive results.

Pharmacological prevention

Quinine is a treatment that is available to help in the prevention of leg cramps. However, quinine is associated with certain risks; therefore, it is important to consider all risks against the benefits. In general, this drug is relatively safe and can be taken by most individuals in a single dose at night to help prevent leg cramps from occurring.

However, when taken in high doses, quinine can have detrimental effects, particularly when taken by children. It is for this reason that quinine is reserved for individuals with severe and frequent leg cramps.

There are several other possible medications that can be considered to help prevent leg cramps, although these are usually less effective as compared to quinine and therefore viewed as alternative treatments.

References

Further Reading

Last Updated: Mar 20, 2021

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.

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