How to treat and prevent leg cramps

07 January 2015

Read our guide to treating and preventing leg cramps.

Treating muscle cramps

In most cases you won’t need any outside help to treat muscle cramps in your legs, as they tend to get better on their own. Stretching your leg and massaging the muscle that’s causing you pain will usually ease the discomfort.
If the affected muscle is still feeling sore and painful 24 hours later, it may be worth taking a painkiller. Make sure that the medication you take is safe to take with any prescription drugs you have.

Preventing muscle cramps

If you have muscle cramps often, it’s worth looking into the problem further. Check with your doctor to see whether any medicine you take regularly could be causing cramps. They may be able to suggest alternative drugs.

Exercises to stretch your legs, especially your calf muscles, may help prevent or cut down the number of muscle cramps you have. This is a simple exercise that you could try.  First, stand about two to three feet away from a wall, with your feet flat on the floor. Put your hands flat against the wall and slowly bend your elbows, so that your face and upper body are brought closer to the wall. It is important to keep your heels flat on the floor. You should feel the backs of your calf muscles stretching. Do this exercise gently to begin with, then hold the stretched position for a little longer, as your body becomes more used to it. Do not do this exercise if you are unsteady on your feet or have poor balance. If in doubt ask your GP first.

Quinine can help cut down the number of leg cramps you have. However, it tends to be used only when most other treatments have failed, because of its potential, and often serious, side-effects. These aren’t common if you take quinine at low doses – which is likely when treating leg cramps – but it’s important that you’re aware of them. 

The side effects of quinine can include headaches, hearing loss, disturbed vision and confusion. Taking more quinine than you should can cause blindness and even death. If you are taking quinine and have concerns about its safety, talk these over with your GP.  

Read our guide to the causes of muscle cramps

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.