What causes those pesky cramps and when are they dangerous? When should you worry about leg cramps, charlie horses, and muscle spasms? The House Call Doctor takes on leg cramps.
What Should You Do About Leg Cramps?
So what should you do about leg cramps? For those people who have seen their doctor and have had more serious problems ruled out, leg cramps can still be a great nuisance, and treating them can be a challenge (which in doctor speak means that we can’t always fix the problem). Here are some treatments for leg cramps that have worked in my practice:
- Take supplements - Even if lab tests are negative, sometimes taking potassium and magnesium can improve the symptoms. Magnesium supplements are relatively safe as long as you follow the instructions on the bottle (although they tend to loosen the bowels some), but potassium supplements shouldn’t be taken without some supervision by your doctor.
- Cut back on alcohol and caffeine - Both of these can cause mild dehydration, which makes muscle cramps more likely.
- Stretch more often - Leg stretches before bedtime can improve symptoms.
- Drink tonic water - Quinine is an old medication that works really well. The problem is that it not only interacts with other medications, but it can itself have significant toxicity too. It’s not available on the market for leg cramps, but some people find drinking a little tonic water, which contains quinine, can help.
- See a doctor - When all else fails, ask a professional. There are some prescription medications that can help as well.
Finally, I want to mention that leg cramps are not the same thing as Restless Legs Syndrome, which is not as painful but equally irritating.
See also: How to Get Rid of Leg Cramps
You can find more information on the symptoms, causes, and treatments of Restless Legs Syndrome on QDT's RLS homepage: quickanddirtytips.com/rls.
Origin of the term Charlie Horse
In the German-speaking world, it is commonly known as a Pferdekuss (horse's kiss), while in Norway it is referred to as a lårhøne (thigh hen), in Sweden as a lårkaka (thigh cake), in the Netherlands as an ijsbeen (ice leg) and in France as a béquille (crutch). In Portugal, it is known as a paralítica, roughly translated to "paralyzer". In Japan it is known as komuragaeri (??????), which is literally "cramp in the calf". In northeastern Italy, it is commonly called a lopez, while in the northwest it is called vecchia (old woman) or dura ("hard one" or "tough one"); in the south of the country, instead, it is called morso di ciuccio (donkey bite). In some areas of central Italy, it is called opossum.
Catch you next time! Stay Healthy!
Let me once again remind you that this podcast is for informational purposes only. My goal is to add to your medical knowledge and translate some of the weird medical stuff you hear, so when you do go to your doctor, your visits will be more fruitful. I don’t intend to replace your doctor; he or she is the one you should always consult about your own medical condition.
Sanaz Majd, MD, also contributed to this article, which was updated on October 7, 2016.
Stretching image from Shutterstock