Leg cramps are a particularly irritating ailment that are relatively harmless but cause immense pain while it's happening. At the same time they can strike at the most inappropriate times – when we're sleeping most often meaning that we wake up regularly in the night feeling tired after not getting a sound night of quality rest. Other times though are when we are swimming when it can be of course highly dangerous or during sports, exercise or dance where it can be embarrassing and cost us our performance.
As such for those who regularly find themselves suffering with cramps it's necessary to try and cure the problem as quickly and effectively as possible. Many people will be drawn to such lengths as to put corks under their pillow as they sleep as a result of an old superstition that says this works. However there is no need truly to stoop to this level, and there are many tried and tested scientific solutions to the problem that will work a lot better. Here we will break those down into short term and long term solutions.
For immediate relief you need to rub the area quickly but gently. At the same time try flexing and stretching your foot/leg toward the ceiling and down in order to stretch your muscles (it is most likely found in the calf). Something that many people also often find effective is to 'stamp' or walk around on their affected leg so try walking around on your bad leg as long as you have a free hand to support yourself.
Afterwards try massaging the area to prevent it from recurring. Often the cramp will have been caused when you stretched – perhaps going on tip toes for example so try and avoid the movement that set it off for a while until you're sure the coast is clear.
Your diet can affect how likely you are to get cramp and there are several factors that interplay here. Firstly cramp has been shown to be caused by low potassium. Potassium can be found in several sources but most notably in bananas so it may be that a banana a day helps to keep the cramps away. At the same time the nutrient carnitine has also been shown to help prevent cramping. Carnitine is found in red meats along other foods so this is something else you should try and eat regularly (red meat also provides protein and increases your production of testosterone).
You can also experience cramping as a result of getting not enough sodium (salt) and so salty foods can help if you are struggling a lot with cramps and particularly before sporting events. Isotonic sports drinks are particularly effective as they are designed to replace lost water and salt and these can decrease your chances of cramps. They work particularly well as cramping can also occur as a result of dehydration and so it is important that you ensure to drink lots of water regularly to minimise your chances of cramps.
Things to Avoid
There have been some suggestions that the sports supplement creatine may contribute to cramps though there has been no conclusive evidence. While you needn't immediately withdraw usage, it may be worth experimenting by stopping taking creatine for a period and seeing if your cramping lessens during this time.
Before exercises and sports then make sure to fully hydrate yourself and to use isotonic sports drinks – or drink just water with a pinch of salt. At the same time be sure to stretch and limber up fully which can help you to relax and limber the muscles to prevent cramping.
Before bed you again want to relax the muscles. Try massaging them and take a hot bath which will help them to de-stress (a hot bath will also help your body to produce various sleep hormones). If you continue to get cramps you can try applying Deep Heat onto your muscles before you go to bed.