What is the Best Treatment for Leg Pain and Cramps?

Lumara Lee

Leg pain and cramps are fairly common and usually are not serious, but they typically are not enjoyable, either. The best treatment for them involves massage, heat therapy and pain-relieving medication as well as exercises to reduce the chances of recurrence. A person can usually treat himself, but those who suffer from leg cramps regularly should speak to a healthcare professional.

Applying ice may help relieve a charley horse.
Applying ice may help relieve a charley horse.

Many people have had the experience of waking up in the middle of the night with excruciating calf pain, and when such a charley horse strikes, the first tendency is usually to try to straighten out the leg and massage the muscle that is causing the pain. This instinctive reaction is actually the best way to ease a leg cramp, and applying a warm heating pad to the painful area also is effective for immediate relief. If the pain persists, the person can take a pain reliever such as aspirin or ibuprofen to help ease the pain.

Broccoli is a potassium rich food that can help deter leg cramps.
Broccoli is a potassium rich food that can help deter leg cramps.

If pain and cramps in the legs are a rare occurrence, there is no need to do anything more than treat them when they occur, but if a person suffers from this condition often, there are a number of preventive measures that can help reduce their frequency and severity. Dehydration is a common cause of nocturnal leg cramps, so the sufferer may find that increasing the amount of water he drinks every day might be enough to solve the problem. Alcohol can cause dehydration, so limiting its use is recommended.

Massaging may help ease leg cramps.
Massaging may help ease leg cramps.

A calcium and/or magnesium deficiency also might cause calf pain, so a person who frequently has leg cramps or charley horses should eat foods that are rich in these two minerals to see whether this takes care of the problem. Milk, broccoli, nuts and beans are rich in calcium and magnesium. Adding a daily supplement that contains both nutrients is a good way to ensure that an individual gets enough of these important minerals.

A potassium deficiency can also cause muscle cramps. As with the other minerals, adding more potassium to the diet can often help prevent crams from happening. Foods that are rich in potassium include bananas, oranges, tomatoes, broccoli and grapes.

A lack of exercise can also contribute to leg pain and cramps, so regular stretching and movement can help. Standing a little more than arm's length away from the wall, then leaning forward with the arms extended until the palms are against the wall, can help stretch the calf muscles. Another exercise is standing on a stairway with one hand on a railing for balance and the heels hanging off a step, then raising and lowering the heels. These are excellent exercises for stretching and strengthening the calf muscles.

Leg cramps are not to be confused with restless leg syndrome, which is characterized by a crawling sensation in the legs. If common treatments don't help alleviate the cramps, or if they occur with great frequency, the sufferer should consult with a medical professional who can determine if there is a more a serious underlying medical condition.

Regular stretching exercises may help reduce leg cramps.
Regular stretching exercises may help reduce leg cramps.

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Discussion Comments


@candyquilt-- They can be used if the cause of the pain and cramps is a spasm or other serious condition where there is severe inflammation.

Cortisone is a strong drug, it's a steroid like you said. So it is only used in serious conditions when other treatments like pain relievers and muscle relaxers are not enough. For example, if someone suffers from a severe leg muscle spasm which affects the function of the muscles and nerves, then the doctor may prescribe cortisone.

Usually however, leg pain and cramps go away on their own without any treatment. A pain reliever can be taken or hot packs, massage or stretching exercises may be used in persistent cases.


Can or should a steroid medication like cortisone be used for leg pain and cramps?


I used to experience night time leg cramps frequently growing up. My mother, who is a nurse, always had me take a multivitamin the next day and drink lots of water. The cramps never re-occurred.

I think that these types of cramps are common and not harmful. But as the article said, if they become frequent, it's a good idea to see a doctor about it.

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