How to Recover From Bad Running Leg Cramps

Leg cramps from running are typically caused by overuse, muscle strain or dehydration. Running too far too quickly and without sufficient training or warming up can quickly lead to thigh and calf cramps. Although most cramps are not serious, they may contribute to falls and other accidents, potentially putting you at risk for serious injury. Frequent cramps that do not respond to home treatment or prevention measures or that interfere with mobility require medical attention.

Muscle fatigue can lead to cramps when running. (Image: fatchoi/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 1

Stop running and move to a place you can safely rest and stretch. Walk home if you are outdoors, or sit down if you are running on a treadmill indoors.

Step 2

Straighten the affected leg out in front of you, and pull your toes up toward your knee. This helps ease calf cramps, the most common location for cramps in athletes.

Step 3

Massage a cramping leg muscle with gentle pressure to relax it and speed recovery from the cramp. If you notice increased pain, stop the massage immediately.

Step 4

Apply a cold compress directly to the affected muscle to reduce blood flow, prevent bruising and additional damage and relax the muscle. Leave the cold compress on for 15 to 20 minutes, and repeat every hour until the cramping is completely gone. Do not apply ice to bare skin; doing so can cause skin damage.

Step 5

Soothe cramping leg muscles with a hot shower or bath once the primary cramp has passed. Allow the shower water to run against the affected muscles, or soak in a very warm tub for 15 minutes. A heating pad is also useful.

Step 6

Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise, and use a rehydration solution if you are sweating excessively or believe your leg cramps may be due to dehydration.

Step 7

Take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as naproxen or ibuprofen, if lingering muscle soreness remains after your cramp subsides. If over-the-counter medications are not strong enough to control your pain, consult your doctor. Severe pain may indicate a muscle injury that needs professional treatment.

Step 8

Rest the affected muscles until all pain is gone. This may take several days. In the meantime, you can continue to work other muscle groups. Return to running only when recovery is complete.

Things You'll Need

  • Cold compress

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication


Do preventative exercises such as endurance training or plyometerics on the days you don't run -- these increase your conditioning and helps prevent the onset of neuromuscular fatigue that can cause muscle cramps.


Cramping can be a symptom of more serious condition, such as diabetes or thyroid disease. Consult with your health care professional if your cramping is prolonged or consistent after each run.

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