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The Cause and Treatment of Leg Cramps

By Staff Writer

Leg Cramps

Leg cramps are muscle spasms anywhere in the leg. They usually occur at night and can result in sudden, painful spasms. If you’re frequently bothered by leg cramps, check with your doctor to rule out medical conditions that may be causing the problem. Many different factors can promote cramping, including low blood levels of calcium, magnesium, or vitamin E. Circulation disorders, anemia (a low level of blood cells) and improper functioning of the thyroid gland can also cause leg cramps. Other causes include dehydration, heat stroke, inactivity, and strenuous exercise. Cramps can also occur for no apparent reason.

Tips to help prevent and treat leg cramps

Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Doctors recommend six to eight glasses every day. Massage your muscles before going to bed. Stretch daily, before and after exercise. Maintain a well-balanced diet and eat foods high in calcium (such as milk and cheese), potassium (bananas and dates), and vitamin E (spinach and sweet potatoes). If you have a leg cramp, gently stretch and massage the muscle. You can apply a warm heating pad to the area to help calm the cramping muscle and reduce discomfort. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) can help reduce the pain of leg cramps. Some people try natural remedies such as vitamin E, vitamin B6, magnesium, butcher’s broom, and MSM to prevent leg cramps.

Final options

There’s no convincing evidence that these supplements are effective for treating or preventing leg cramps. In severe cases, doctors may prescribe muscle relaxants to relieve leg cramps. People have used quinine sulfate to treat leg cramps. It’s now available only by prescription. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) research showed that quinine sulfate is not effective for leg cramps. Quinine has also been associated with serious side effects such as temporary sight and hearing disturbances, dizziness, fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Sources: Diseases & Conditions. “Muscle cramp.” http://www.mayoclinic.com. Mayo Clinic Health. Last accessed 11/9/2006.Mayo Clinic Family Health Book. William Morrow & Co., 1996.Micromedex® Healthcare Series. Thomson Micromedex, 2006. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Pharmacists Letter Inc., 2001.Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Avery Publishing Group, 1997.U.S. Food and Drug Administration Updates, http://www.fda.gov, last accessed 11/9/2006.This answer prepared 7/19/2001.This information updated 1/23/2007.

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