Some people think that taking minerals and vitamins for leg cramps will bring them relief, yet the research on this topic remains unclear. Treatment depends on what's causing the leg cramps, so it's important to understand the underlying reason and know your treatment options.
The Prevalence of Cramps
Most people have leg cramps at some point in their life. Follow-ups for visits to a general medicine clinic show that about 50 percent of patients had leg cramps within a month of their visit, according to a May 2015 report in Clinical Evidence. And, a February 2017 paper in Family Practice indicated that more than 30 percent of older adults complain about leg cramps. Finally, a March 2019 article in Swiss Medical Weekly stated that 50 percent of these type of patients had already used some form of treatment — especially magnesium.
You can help improve this situation by speaking with your doctor about leg cramps. Unfortunately, the PLoS One paper indicates that very few people with leg cramps report this problem during their physical. This lack of communication occurs despite the fact that 24 percent of patients find leg cramps very distressing.
The Causes of Cramps
Doctors call involuntary muscle contractions affecting the lower extremity leg cramps. These painful sensations most often occur as calf cramps and typically happen at night. They usually last for only a few seconds, but they can continue for several minutes in some cases.
It's sometimes difficult to tell what has triggered leg cramps. A May 2015 paper in Clinical Evidence lists several possible explanations. Leg cramps might happen without an obvious cause, but a chemical imbalance brought on by pregnancy, exercise, disease and aging can also contribute. Mineral and vitamin deficiencies might play a role in leg cramps, as well.
You might prevent leg cramps by keeping your electrolytes balanced, remaining hydrated and staying limber. A September 2017 paper in the_ Journal of Korean Medicine_ described a study showing a successful stretching routine in 55 older adults. It featured standing stretches for the hamstring and calf muscles as well as a sitting stretch for the calf muscle.
How to Treat Cramps
A November 2016 review in Age and Ageing noted that the malaria drug quinine is the only medication proven effective for leg cramps. Unfortunately, this drug causes life-threatening side effects in some people, so it is no longer recommended. Using vitamins and minerals for muscle spasms might offer you an alternative.
Magnesium remains a popular choice for leg cramps, but a study published in the May 2017 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine failed to find any difference between the essential mineral and a placebo among a broad range of adults. An April 2015 report in Maternal and Child Nutrition showed that magnesium might be effective only in specific populations like pregnant women.
The pregnant women in this study took oral doses of 300 milligrams of magnesium bisglycinate chelate each day for four weeks during their second and third trimester. This treatment decreased cramping by 50 percent.
Minerals for Muscle Cramps
Researchers have tested other minerals for muscle cramps, as well. A common theory is that your electrolyte balance plays a role in leg cramps — especially exercise-related cramping. Calcium and potassium for leg cramps have thus been considered possible treatment options, according to a 2017 report in the Scientific Pages of Sports Medicine.
Because bananas have abundant potassium, a May 2014 dissertation from North Dakota State University explored their possible effectiveness in people with a history of leg cramps. This researcher triggered leg cramps using an electrical pulse. Participants ate two 300-gram servings of bananas an hour before their testing session. The bananas increased their potassium levels, but the fruit had no effect on cramping.
Vitamins for Muscle Cramps
A 2015 article in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research showed that more than 60 percent of city-dwelling people had a vitamin D deficiency and that these people often had leg cramps. This finding suggests that treating the underlying deficiency might relieve the cramps. A February 2017 report in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences explored this possibility in pregnant women with at least two cramps a week.
These researchers randomly assigned the women to one of three groups: (1) vitamin D, (2) vitamin D and calcium or (3) a placebo. The subjects received daily doses for 42 days. However, neither the vitamin D nor the vitamin D-calcium combination had any effect on cramping.
Exercise for Muscle Cramps
About 5 to 20 percent of dialysis patients experience leg cramps during treatment. Low blood pressure, weight loss and dehydration typically mediate such cramps. Exercise can help overcome these health risks, so it might improve cramping, as well. A February 2017 report in the Journal of Nephropharmacology tested this hypothesis in 60 dialysis patients.
Participants did 10 minutes of cycling (treatment group) or no exercise (control group) immediately before a dialysis session. They repeated this protocol on 10 occasions. Compared to baseline, the treatment group had 43 percent fewer cramps. In contrast, the control group had 6 percent more cramps.
Cycling might help you decrease your leg cramps as well. The American Council on Exercise describes a simple routine to help get you started. This routine begins with a five-minute warm-up, and that might be all you can do on your first day. However, you will get fitter over time and gradually gain the fitness needed to complete the entire 35-minute routine.
Relieve Calf Trigger Points
These researchers injected 1 to 2 milliliters of 0.25 percent lidocaine into the patients' calf trigger points. These injections decreased cramping and pain and improved the subjects' sleep as well.
You will need to meet with a doctor to get trigger point injections, but self-massage can also relieve trigger points. For example, a September 2018 paper in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders showed that foam rolling can relieve calf trigger points. Interestingly, you don't have to directly roll the irritated point. You only have to roll near it.
If you are experiencing leg cramps, it's important to speak with a healthcare professional. Diagnostic tests might show an underlying medical condition, and a doctor can help you find an effective and safe treatment.
- Clinical Evidence: "Leg Cramps"
- Family Practice: "Criteria in Diagnosing Nocturnal Leg Cramps"
- Swiss Medical Weekly: "Prospective Observational Study of the Main Features of Nocturnal Leg Cramps in Primary Care"
- Sleep Medicine Clinics: "Sleep-Related Leg Cramps"
- PLoS One: "Nocturnal Leg Cramps"
- Journal of Neurology: "Neurogenic Muscle Cramps"
- Polish Archives of Internal Medicine: "Restless Legs Syndrome and Nocturnal Leg Cramps"
- Journal of Korean Medicine: "Conventional Western Medicine and Complementary and Alternative Medicine on Leg Cramps"
- Age and Ageing: "Review of Nocturnal Leg Cramps in Older People"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "New Risk Management Plan and Patient Medication Guide for Qualaquin (Quinine Sulfate)"
- JAMA Internal Medicine: "Effect of Magnesium Oxide Supplementation on Nocturnal Leg Cramps"
- Maternal and Child Nutrition: "Oral Magnesium for Relief in Pregnancy-Induced Leg Cramps"
- Scientific Pages of Sports Medicine: "Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps — A Current Perspective"
- North Dakota State University: "Use of Bananas in Preventing Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps"
- Journal of Research in Medical Sciences: "Effect of Vitamin D and Calcium Plus Vitamin D on Leg Cramps in Pregnant Women"
- Journal of Nephropharmacology: "Impact of a Designed Isotonic Exercise Program on Pain Intensity of Muscle Cramps in Legs of Patients Undergoing Hemodialysis"
- American Council on Exercise: "Build Your Own Indoor Cycling Workout Routines"
- Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine: "Effects of Myofascial Trigger Point Injections on Nocturnal Calf Cramps"
- BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders: "Pain Pressure Threshold of a Muscle Tender Spot Increases Following Local and Non-Local Rolling Massage"
- Seminars in Neurology: "Myofascial Trigger Point Pain Syndromes"
- International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research: "High Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency and Associated Risk Factors Among Employed Women in a Sunny Industrial City"