The agony of leg cramps
Leg cramps are very common and usually harm-less. They can happen at any time but most people have them at night or when resting.
They can be very painful and make it hard for you to move. The cramps can last from a few seconds to ten minutes.
They can affect the calf muscle, below the knee at the back of the leg and/or muscles in the feet or the thighs (less often).
After the cramp has stopped, the muscle might feel tender for up to 24 hours.
Things you can do yourself
During a cramp
Most cramps go away without you doing anything but stretching and massaging the muscle can help to ease the pain.
Paracetamol or ibuprofen won’t help when cramp is happening as they take too long to work. They can help to ease muscle tenderness afterwards.
Regular calf-stretching exercises might not completely prevent cramps but may help to reduce them.
See your doctor if leg cramps are disturbing your sleep and you also have numbness or swelling in your legs.
Ask for an urgent appointment if you have cramps and they last longer than ten minutes. There’s a chance you might have got a tetanus infection from a wound.
Treatment for leg cramps
Your GP will examine you to try to find out the reason for your cramps. They’ll suggest a treatment depending on the cause. This might be stretching exercises and/or quinine tablets if your cramps are very bad and exercise hasn’t helped.
Quinine isn’t suitable for everyone. Your GP will discuss potential risks and side effects with you.