If you've ever experienced a "Charley horse," then you know how severely debilitating they can be. The House Call Doctor explains what causes leg cramps, and how to treat them.
Treatment of Leg Cramps
If there is not a risk factor for developing leg cramps (which is true for most sufferers of this annoying condition), then we must address it in other ways.
Unfortunately, though, there is currently no good treatment for leg cramps. Various tactics have been suggested in the past--such as taking over-the-counter supplements or vitamins, eating bananas, etc.--but they have not been shown to be very effective. The prescription drug quinine was prescribed in the past, but is no longer recommended by the FDA, due to potentially serious side effects, and the toxicity levels of the drug vs the very modest benefit for the symptoms.
Until a medical treatment has been found, here are some ways to deal with leg cramps that have some evidence of benefits, at this point in time; as always, be sure to discuss them, and your symptoms, with your doctor:
- Mild exercise before bedtime (such as a few minutes on the treadmill or stationary bike)
- Stretching exercises and massage before bedtime
- Avoid diuretics in your diet (caffeine and alcohol, which are dehydrating)
- Magnesium supplements (but be careful not to overdo it, since magnesium can be toxic at high levels)
- Vitamin B12 (only if you are low)
- Prescription muscle relaxants
- Neuropathic pain medications (such as gabapentin)
- Calcium channel blockers (often used for treatment of hypertension and migraines)
In a nutshell, half of us have experienced these debilitating symptoms at some point or another. However, for some of us, leg cramps can become too frequent and start to affect our quality of life.
Most patients don’t have another medical condition that is causing the leg cramps, but if you are getting them frequently--and are they type to shy away from the doctor’s office--it may be wise to make an appointment, if only for peace of mind. Even a simple blood pressure check and blood test may be enough to determine if you have risk factors for peripheral vascular disease, or if you may be suffering from diabetes or electrolyte imbalances, which are the more common risks associated with leg cramps.
Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.