Leg cramps are the involuntary contraction of a muscle or group of muscles in the leg. These cramps are usually painful and can occur at any age. They may affect the calf muscle, the hamstring or the quadriceps. These painful muscle contractions can last anywhere from one minute to several minutes in duration.
While the cause may be difficult to determine, cramping may result from the following factors: rigorous exercise; muscle fatigue from overexertion; dehydration; hormonal, fluid or electrolyte imbalance; excess weight; side effects from certain medicines; diminished blood supply; muscle or nerve disease; or nerve abnormalities. Leg cramps that occur during sleep are known as recumbency cramps. The most common cause of muscle cramps is a lack of magnesium or calcium in the proper amount in the blood stream.
In rare cases, cramping legs may be a symptom of a form of atherosclerosis known as intermittent claudication. This condition causes an inadequate blood supply to the legs. Ask your doctor about your cramping if they are frequent enough that they interfere with your sleep or if your legs frequently cramp up during or after exercising.
- Caraway - take an infusion of caraway to relieve cramping pain.
- Black cohosh – this herb is an antispasmodic that can help relax the muscles. Take a 500 mg capsule of powdered root or 30 to 60 drops of tincture in a little warm water every one or two hours when your muscles cramp up. Two or three doses should be sufficient. Don't use black cohosh more than six months at a time, or if you're pregnant. Black cohosh should only be taken under medical guidance.
- Bilberry – this herb is also a muscle relaxant. It helps increase circulation to the limbs, which can be helpful in preventing muscle cramps. Take 80 mg three times per day of an extract for relief.
- Ginkgo biloba – this herb increases the circulation by dilating the arteries that feed the tissues of the legs. A standard dose is 60 mg three times per day.
- Cramp bark – this antispasmodic herb can help relieve spasms in the muscles. Take as a tea, a tincture or in capsule form.
- Ginger – another herb that stimulates the circulation, ginger may be one you happen to have readily at hand. Take as a tea, a tincture or as a capsule. Eating candied ginger may also help relieve the cramping.
- Chamomile – this herb can reduce the pain associated with cramping. Drink up to five cups of chamomile tea per day for at least two weeks to increase the glycine (amino acid) in the system to help relax the muscles.
- Horse chestnut – an extract made from the root of the horse chestnut can prevent leg cramps. If you feel like cramps may begin, take two capsules a day for a couple of days.
- Cayenne – this herb stimulates the circulation and relieves pain. Apply cayenne topically as an ointment to help relieve muscle cramps. It can also be taken internally as a tincture.
- Cinnamon - apply cinnamon based ointment to affected area 2 - 3 times a day, as directed by label.
- Nutmeg - add 3 drops essential oil in 50ml carrier oil. Apply 3 times a day.