Leg cramps are really bad experiences that almost everyone has ever had. The exact cause of a leg cramp is not well understood, but there are some risk factors that are thought to contribute to this condition: muscle fatigue, heavy exercising, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, medications (statins, prednisone, others…).

When a leg cramp happens, the best way to get rid of it is to massage the cramped muscle. You can put your hand on the muscle, and then use the fingers to rub or knead back and forth until the pain is relieved. Gently massaging the muscle will often help it to relax, as will applying warmth from a heating pad or hot soak.

Also, leg cramps can be stopped if the muscle can be stretched. For a calf muscle cramp, you can pull the toe of the cramped leg towards you and unbend your leg at the same time. Hold the position for one or two minutes. For an anterior muscle cramp, you should stand on your toes like a ballet dancer. That is to say, you must stretch the muscle in the opposite direction against the cramps.

If the cramp is associated with fluid loss, as is often the case with vigorous physical activity, fluid and electrolyte (especially sodium and potassium) replacement is essential. For the people who complain about midnight cramps, a glass of diluent sports drink before bed may help.

However, the best way to treat is to prevent. Here are some tips.

Stay Hydrated

Drink at least eight full glasses of water each day, including one before bedtime. Also drink plenty of fluid before, during, and after exercise.

Stretch Regularly

Stretching can relax muscle fibers. When working out, a good post-work out stretching routine can help relax muscles and prevent cramps. Make sure you cool down after exercising, and do not exercise vigorously just prior to sleep.

Train Gradually

Gradually build up an exercise program, and try to avoid sudden increases in activity. The “10% Rule” is a good rule of thumb: never increase your exercise over one week by more than 10% compared to the week before. Sudden changes in activities can cause leg cramps.

If leg cramps become a persistent and recurring problem, you should be evaluated by your doctor. Because electrolyte imbalances can cause cramping, some blood may be analyzed to ensure the levels of potassium and other electrolytes are normal. There are also muscle relaxing medications that can be prescribed if the muscle cramping is a problem, particularly at night.