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Leg cramps occur when the muscles in your leg or foot tighten and shorten. They can be quite painful, but are normally harmless.
Usually leg cramps will only last a few seconds before the muscles relax again, but they can last up to 10 minutes.
Muscle cramps can be caused by an underlying condition, but often the cause is unknown. These are called idiopathic leg cramps.
Leg cramps can also be caused by certain medications. If your muscle cramps are caused by any medications you are taking, speak to your doctor. Never stop taking prescribed medication without talking to your doctor first.
Other types of muscle cramps can be addressed with self-care measures, including stretching and taking painkillers.
Here you will find the different causes of leg cramps, how to treat them, and when to worry about leg cramps.
Leg cramps that don’t have a known cause are called idiopathic leg cramps. There are some theories that they might be caused by:
Despite the cause being unknown, idiopathic leg cramps can often be resolved with self-care measures which will be discussed below.
Cramps that have a known cause are called secondary cramps.
They can be caused by:
These cramps can sometimes be resolved by addressing the underlying condition, but self-care measures can also be effective.
In a few people, certain medications can cause leg cramps, including:
If you are concerned that medication is causing your leg cramps, speak to your doctor.
If the cause of your leg cramps is unknown, there are some self-care measures you can take, such as stretching and massaging the muscle.
To prevent leg cramps from happening so frequently, you can try:
Muscle cramps can be quite painful, and sometimes your muscles can remain sore for several hours after cramping. You may want to take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (if you are not allergic to these medications and don’t have any medical conditions that do not allow you to take these medications), to alleviate the pain experienced after cramping.
It can be more challenging to resolve cramps caused by an underlying condition, particularly liver disease. If self-care measures are not sufficient then your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant to help relieve your symptoms.
In rare cases you may be prescribed quinine to prevent leg cramps, but there can be serious side effects so it is best to try self-care measures first.
You should see a doctor immediately or go to your nearest hospital if:
You should see your doctor within 48 hours if:
You should see a doctor if:
Anyone who has experienced leg cramps knows how painful they can be, so taking steps to prevent them is crucial.
Take the time to stretch the affected muscle, stay hydrated, and prevent your toes from pointing down when you sleep.
If you’re at all concerned about your leg cramps, or you experience any worrying signs (as listed above) then you should see a doctor.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.