How to get rid of muscle cramps in your legs
The muscles in your legs are made up of bundles of fibers that alternately contract and expand to produce movement. A cramp is a sudden, involuntary contraction (tightening) of one of these muscles, typically in your calf. Cramps can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. They can be mild, or intense enough to wake you out of a sound sleep. A sudden, painful muscle spasm in the leg is called a charley horse, which legend has it is named after baseball player Charlie “Hoss” Radbourn, who reportedly suffered from frequent cramps back in the 1880s.
They can include:
Diagnosing muscle cramps
You should be able to treat a cramp on your own, but see a doctor if your cramps are severe, you get them often, or you have other symptoms (like numbness or weakness) along with them. Rarely, cramps can signal a problem with the spine, blood vessels, or liver.
Treating muscle cramps
Most cramps will go away on their own within a few seconds to minutes. Stretching or massaging the muscle will help it relax. Heat is soothing to tense muscles. Apply a heating pad or warm wet washcloth to help loosen up the muscle.
To avoid leg cramps in the future, drink plenty of fluids before and during exercise. Muscles need fluid to contract and relax properly. Prevent tightness by warming up your leg muscles before you work out with some walking in place or a slow jog. After each workout, stretch out your leg muscles for a few minutes. Do another set of stretches before bed if you tend to get cramps while you sleep. For cramps that are especially severe, frequent, or disruptive to sleep, a prescription muscle relaxant like cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), metaxalone (Skelaxin), or methocarbamol (Robaxin) may help.
For more information on muscle cramps, check out Healing Leg Pain, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
Image: photocheaper/Getty Images Credit: Harvard Medical School.