Fitness Articles

How to Eliminate Muscle Cramps

You Can Prevent this Problem

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Knowing what causes a cramp isn't much consolation when you’re in the middle of a painful episode of cramping. Therefore, it pays to know how to stop the cramp quickly or, better yet, head it off before it happens.

How to Stop a Cramp
Many simple muscle cramps can be stopped quickly by moderately stretching the cramped muscle. If you have cramps in your feet or toes, you can often ''walk it off'' by simply standing up and/or walking around in bare or stocking feet. For hand cramps, try pressing your hand against a flat surface. For a calf cramp, straighten your leg in the air while lying on your back and pull your toes toward your head using a towel. Alternatively, lean into a wall with your heels flat on the floor and your feet 2-3 feet from the wall—just far enough to produce a light stretch. For other muscles, you can learn specific stretches for the muscle that is affected.

Sometimes, massaging a cramped muscle will help release it. If you suffer from rest cramps (e.g., cramps that happen while sleeping or during extended sitting), lightly stretching those muscles before sleeping or sitting may help prevent the cramps.

When a cramp comes on during a workout session, stop the exercise long enough to stretch the muscle. You can further help a cramped muscle relax by contracting the opposing muscle group (e.g., contract your quads to help relax a cramp in your hamstrings). Massage the muscle for a little while while you get yourself rehydrated, consuming a sports drink with electrolytes if possible, then resume your activity. If the cramping continues, then overuse or fatigue is the likely cause--and the only thing that may stop that is stopping your workout session completely. 

How to Prevent Muscle Cramps
Upset nerves are a primary cause of common muscle cramps. There are three very common and preventable problems that can make your nerves unhappy: dehydration, vitamin deficiencies and electrolyte imbalances, and overdoing your activity without appropriate preparation. Luckily, you can prevent all of these situations. Here's how.

  • Stay well hydrated. Being dehydrated, whether from heavy sweating during physical activity, overall poor fluid intake, or use of certain medications, can make you especially vulnerable to muscle cramps during or after physical activity. If you live in a hot, humid area and/or sweat a lot during your exercise, or you’re restricting your food and beverage intake for weight loss, you’ll need to take extra precaution to make sure you’re well-hydrated before you start your activity.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • DANNISH1
    Just wanted to share a tip that I got from my friend who also was suffering from muscle cramps. Apparently the mineral/electroly
    te level in your body is very important to avoid getting muscle cramps. Combined with sufficient fluid in your extracellular camber.
    My friend told me about this Norwegian supplement that harvest their minerals from the fjords. This marine minerals is supposed to have a better absorption than other minerals.
    I have tried this supplement now for 4 weeks, and for me it really works. I know many endurance athletes use it as well. They do not sell it in my home country, but I order inline and they ship it to me for free. Check it out at www.fjordnutritio
    n.com - the product is called CRAMPFIX.

    Hope it helps!

    Greetings from Denmark - 5/17/2014 10:06:41 AM
  • I get Charlie horse's in my left leg everyday. I can't sleep at nite alot of times. - 10/7/2013 5:30:44 PM
  • CAL MAG and LIQUID CALCIUM help tremendously - i have taken them for years since my first pregnancy - that is what the dr. recommended . - 8/1/2012 2:09:38 PM
  • I've suffered through terrible leg cramps after intense exercise--biking and running. Nothing seemed to relieve them except time--I often would be up the entire night. I tried Hammer Endurolyte capsules and they work like a dream. I don't usually pop a pill to solve a problem, but this works every time. I also started tracking potassium on the Nutrition Tracker and found I wasn't getting near enough potassium through diet. Now I make a point to eat food high in potassium--dates, avocados, potatoes (do not peel--potassium will be lost as most of it is next to the peel), coconut water, and banana. - 5/23/2012 10:27:28 AM
  • Once you have the cramp... wet a towel with hot water and wrap the .. leg/foot with it. That is if you can get there or someone to do it.....AHhhhhhh is all I can say.
    - 5/15/2012 12:57:51 PM
  • Thanks for all the recommendations! I started taking multivitamins again and added many of your suggestions. I have slept painfree for three nights now. - 12/28/2011 4:40:32 PM
  • TEMPKIKI
    thank you all for the great comments! - 10/8/2011 6:50:58 AM
  • I would wake up with oh so severe leg cramps in the middle of the night. They could start in my foot and go all the way up into my groin. Sometimes i knew it was from dehydration and/or fatigue, especially if i'd had alcohol before bed; but many times for no apparent reason. They were agonizing! I'm pretty stoic about pain, but these made me cry out awfully! My daughter told me about the bar-of-soap-under
    -the-sheets trick. I thought it was a bunch of bunk, but one night in desperation I rubbed a bar of soap on my cramping thigh. Poof! Gone! So I started to keep a small hotel-sized bar of soap under the sheets, and the cramps stopped. When the cramps started coming back I googled and found that you have to replace with a freshly unwrapped bar every now and then. So, I did, and - no more cramps. I know it's crazy and no one knows why this works, but it really did work for me. - 10/7/2011 10:51:31 PM
  • The potassium in bananas helps prevent charley horses (because of the sodium-potassium pump). I'd been eating a banana everyday and working out. Then one day I skipped the banana and that night I immediately got a charley horse. - 10/7/2011 5:07:42 PM
  • I do not have to exercise to get cramp, even rubbing does not ease, I am doubled up with pain. I also get it in the feet and ankles
    Anyone know whar else I can do ?
    Thanks - 10/7/2011 2:48:25 PM
  • I really don't know why they are caused but dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance definitely seem to play a role , especially for me. I seem to get leg cramps after traveling and extreme exertion. Both cases are sometimes accompanied by low water intake which obviously upsets the internal chemical balance. I also find that tonic water works.

    I don't know how to get rid of them permanently but to relieve them when they occur you have to pull your toes up towards your knees to elongate the calf muscles. The normal response is to point your toes and that only makes the cramp worse. So...point toes up towards your nose rather than away from it. It's foolproof. - 10/7/2011 2:02:39 PM
  • GGARDEN
    I agree with LLUCKE. Drink Milk! I get let cramps at night (I would say like the commercials that it's restless leg syndrome) and sometimes charley horses in the arch of my foot or calves. But I can have a glass of milk and they stop. Lately, I have been trying to get back into drinking milk twice a day. I do eat alot of greens but the milk helps. No more problems with the pain and I sleep better. About 2 years ago I started drinking Organic Milk. I just buy store brand. We switch be/c we weren't drinking as much (kids in college) and it was going bad too quickly. Did you know that organic milk is good for a month or 2 in your refrigerator? And it tastes better. Makes me wonder what exactly is in regular milk that it spoils so quickly. - 10/7/2011 1:40:04 PM
  • Magnesium Phosp 6X is a great under the tongue homeopathic cure that stops them almost instantly! Magnesium relaxes muscles (that is why they recommend mag supplements be taken at bedtime - they make you snoozy) - 10/7/2011 11:44:41 AM
  • AJCUNDIFF
    I suffered with terrible night leg cramps for years and wound up in the emergency room one night because of them. The doctor found that I had terribly low potassium levels from years of low-carb dieting. Supplements only contain 99mg and you need between 3500 and 4500mg per day. This means you must make sure you get enough through diet. So I added potassium to my nutrition tracker, did a google search for "potassium rich foods" and posted the list on my fridge. I have not had a SINGLE cramp in 2 years since I started getting enough potassium!!! ( And I run and workout all the time!!!) - 10/7/2011 10:36:13 AM
  • CRAIGBMCHUGH
    I agree that stretching helps if there is an underlying cause. There are many medical conditions that I have read in the other comments. If you have persistent cramps it's time to see a doctor IMO. I have had problems with my potassium levels which cause cramps that last for hours. Potassium level can be high or low and cause cramps. - 10/7/2011 10:00:59 AM
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