Have you ever felt a sharp pain in the calves, thighs, or feet that wake you during the night? These sudden leg cramps are often accompanied by a tight, knotted sensation and swelling lasting for a few seconds up to a half hour.
Overall poor health, multiple medical illnesses, and depression are linked to people who frequently suffer from leg cramping. (1)
Leg cramps can hit at any time of the day although they are more common at night during sleep. Cramping results from dehydration or muscle strain brought on by intense physical activity or exercise.
Sometimes the cause is unknown or poorly understood by researchers although it is thought to be a result of some change in motor neuron excitability in the body. (1)
Nocturnal leg cramps usually interfere with the sleep process, often giving way to sleep deprivation. Finding a quick solution to painful leg cramps becomes essential to avoid the side effects of the “leg jerking.”
While a doctor can prescribe medicine to treat extreme cases, you may not want to start with prescription medication from the very beginning. (2)
Managing Leg Cramps with Home Remedies
A host of natural remedies and treatments are beneficial in bringing relief from leg cramps fast. Some procedures may also help prevent future cramping.
Here are six natural home remedies that can help you get rid of leg cramps instantly.
Method 1: Stretching
Stretching is a natural way to relax the muscles during bouts of prolonged contraction and spasms of pain.
Researches from a 2012 study published in the Journal of Physiotherapy claimed that stretching the calf and hamstring muscles every night before bed significantly reduced the occurrence of leg cramps in the elderly population. This recommendation applies to anyone who suffers from leg cramps and should be performed immediately before going to sleep for best results. (3)
# Towel Stretch
For this stretch, you may use a towel, necktie or scarf, whatever is easily available. An easy stretch, this can be done without anyone’s help whenever you suffer from cramps.
- Take up a seated position with your legs stretched out in front of you.
- Point your toes toward the ceiling.
- Sling a towel around the arch of your foot, holding an end in each hand.
- Gently pull on the towel in order to lift the leg.
Repeat several times. This will stretch and relax the calf muscles. When used as a preventive measure, be sure to stretch both legs.
# Toe Stretch
This stretch can easily be done in bed whenever leg cramps bother you at night.
- Assume a seated position with the cramped leg stretched out in front of you.
- Slowly flex your toes, curling and uncurling them until your cramped muscles relax.
Method 2: Massage
A cramped muscle usually becomes devoid of blood flow, depriving the muscle of oxygen and other important nutrients.
Massage helps bring the blood and other necessary fluids back into the area, which relaxes the muscles and also helps alleviate the pain and stiffness.
In cases of frequent leg cramps, regular massages may also help as a preventive approach since it can help reduce the misfiring motor neuron activity that leads to leg cramping. (4)
- Gently massage the cramped muscle with your fingertips, working in small circular motions to stop leg cramps instantly.
- If you wish, use an essential oil (with or without a carrier oil) to massage your legs.
- If you’re in too much pain, and that’s usually the case, have a partner massage your leg instead. Advise your partner of the intensity of the pressure that you can bear to avoid unnecessary pain.
Repeat daily as needed.
Method 3: Hot Pad Followed by a Cool Pad
Using a hot pad followed by a cool pad can also provide relief during painful leg cramps. This method should not be used by people suffering from medical conditions like diabetes or migraines, which often result in numbness in the limbs.
Placing a heating pad over a cramped muscle increases the blood flow in the area, thus relaxing the muscle. The cool pad numbs the area to the pain and brings down the swelling.
- Place a heating pad over the cramped muscle for about 15 minutes or until the muscle relaxes.
- Place a cool pad over the muscle until the swelling comes down. If using an ice pack, place a thin cloth between the ice pack and your skin.
- Avoid extreme hot and cold temperatures while treating muscle cramps.
Continue the treatment daily as needed to treat leg cramps.
Method 4: Hot Soak with Epsom Salt
A hot soak using Epsom salt is a great way to alleviate muscle cramps. Epsom salt is basically magnesium sulfate. Magnesium is considered good at relieving muscle cramps.
The hot soak in itself is also a great relaxant, which can not only help relieve muscle cramps but also prevent them.
- Take a relaxing hot bath with 1/2 to 1 cup of Epsom salt when suffering from leg cramps.
- Taking a long, hot soak before bed (with or without Epsom salt) can help relax all the muscles in your body, thus preventing any potential cramps during the night. As a bonus, you’ll also sleep like a baby.
Repeat as needed until it provides complete relief.
Method 5: Acupressure
Acupressure is a traditional Chinese medicine used to treat a variety of maladies by applying pressure to trigger points in the body.
Acupressure prevents the transfer of acute stimuli leading to misfiring motor neuron activity and increase endorphins in the blood that relieve pain. (5)
Remember that the pressure applied should be firm, but not hurtful. Administering acupressure at one or both of the pressure points given below can provide pain relief.
- Place your pointer finger on the surface between your big toe and your second toe. Apply pressure with your finger at that point for several minutes.
- Place your pointer finger between your nose and upper lip. Your finger should be closer to your nose than your upper lip by one-third of the distance. Apply gradual pressure with your finger for several minutes.
Repeat if necessary.
Method 6: Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar can be orally consumed or used as a topical application to help with leg cramps. Oral consumption is beneficial as it helps replenish minerals like sodium, magnesium, and potassium.
Apple cider vinegar balances other fluids in the body and prevents dehydration, which often causes cramps.
- Consume 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in a glass of warm water daily. Optionally, you may add honey to this drink.
- Massage your legs with apple cider vinegar at the onset of leg cramps.
Continue the treatment as needed.
Tips to keep in mind
- Many times, wearing high-heeled and uncomfortable shoes may also give rise to leg cramps. Try switching to comfortable shoes and flats. Choose shoes that have cushioned insoles or arch supports.
- Prop your knees over a pillow while sleeping. This may help prevent nighttime leg cramps.
- A dehydrated body is vulnerable to leg cramps due to depletion of electrolytes. Keep yourself hydrated to prevent dehydration-induced cramps.
- Recurring leg cramps may also result from a deficiency of sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. To counter any deficiency, include foods rich in these minerals in your diet. You may also talk to your doctor about supplements.
- Massaging the cramped area with warm clove oil may also bring relief from leg cramps. Being anti-inflammatory, clove oil brings down the pain, inflammation and swelling in the area.
- Keeping a soap bar under your mattress cover near your legs while sleeping is another folk remedy that has helped many.
- Many also champion aromatherapy as a remedy for leg cramps. Massage your legs with a blend of your favorite aromatic essential oils and see if it works for you.
- Minetto MA, Holobar A, Botter A, Farina D. Origin and development of muscle cramps. Exercise and Sports Science Reviews. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23038243. Published January 2013.
- Grandner MA, Winkelman JW. Nocturnal leg cramps: Prevalence and associations with demographics, sleep disturbance symptoms, medical conditions, and cardiometabolic risk factors. PLOS ONE. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0178465. Published June 6, 2017.
- Hallegraeff JM, Schans CP van der, Ruiter R, Greef MHG. Stretching before sleep reduces the frequency and severity of nocturnal leg cramps in older adults: a randomized trial. Journal of Physiotherapy. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1836955312700681. Published March 2012.
- Qiu J, Kang J. Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps - A Current Perspective. The Scientific Pages of Sports Medicine. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/314859171. Published 2017.
- Mohmadi K, Shahgholian N, Valiani M, Mardanparvar H. The effect of acupressure on muscle cramps in patients undergoing hemodialysis. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28194192. Published 2016.