How to Avoid Leg & Feet Cramps

Fresh water with lemon cocktail near pool on the table
The quinine in tonic water may help alleviate painful foot and leg cramps. (Image: Bzzz/iStock/Getty Images)

Muscle cramps are involuntary--usually painful--contractions of your muscles. They can strike your legs and feet, particularly at night; people over 50 are more susceptible to this type of cramp. Leg and foot cramps can also affect athletes. Leg cramps can result from underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, but they often occur in healthy people. MayoClinic.com notes that leg and foot cramps are usually harmless, but advises seeking immediate medical care if you have severe and persistent cramping. If leg cramps frequently disturb your sleep or if you have muscle weakness, see your doctor.

Step 1

Stretch your muscles right before bedtime by doing a "runner's stretch." Brace your arms against a wall and then take a step towards it, leaving your back foot flat on the floor and holding the position for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. According to Jim Mitterando, M.D., a family doctor at Cohasset Family Practice and a staff member at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Mass., stretching out tight muscles can often prevent nocturnal cramping.

Step 2

Drink 8 to 16 ounces of tonic water before bedtime. Mitterando says that quinine, found in tonic water, can help treat leg cramps, but ask your doctor first if you are pregnant, have kidney, liver or heart disease or are taking digoxin or warfarin.

Step 3

Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and include electrolyte-containing sports drinks in your liquid intake. This can be particularly helpful if your leg and foot cramps are from intense exercise and resultant sweating. Michael F. Bergeron, Ph.D., FACSM, director of the environmental physiology laboratory at the Medical College of Georgia, says that cramps that result from excessive sweating can be helped or prevented by sports drinks.

Step 4

Perform frequent massages on your legs and feet at various times of day, rubbing the muscles thoroughly. According to Charles van der Horst, M.D., an AIDS researcher at the University of North Carolina, deep muscle massage of affected areas can be helpful.

Step 5

Use good posture when sitting and keep both feet flat on the floor. The University of Maryland Medical Center says that sitting with your legs crossed or twisted can bring on cramps.

Step 6

Check your medications to see if they could be causing your leg and foot cramps. According to NYTimes.com, diuretics--which can deplete potassium--are a common culplrit.

Step 7

Wear shoes with proper support. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that strain from poorly fitting footwear can contribute to cramps in your legs and feet.

Things You'll Need

  • Tonic water

  • Sports drinks containing electrolytes

Tip

University of Maryland Medical Center notes that untucking sheets and covers from the bottom of the bed may help prevent nocturnal leg cramps. If leg or foot cramps strike, MayoClinic.com advises taking a hot shower to ease discomfort.

REFERENCES & RESOURCES
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