Cramps can range from mild and annoying, to painful and disruptive. Discover what exactly cramps are, who might get them and what you can do about them.
Cramps can technically occur in any muscle group. However, there are certain muscle groups where cramps are most common.
These include the legs, particularly the calves. Cramps can also occur in the hands, feet and neck.
The muscles of the abdomen are also prone to cramps, particularly in women during the menstrual cycle.
Cramps could have various different causes. The most common are:
From a standing position, and with your right heel on the floor, pull your toes towards you and hold for a few seconds.
You should feel a gentle pull at the back of your calf.
Raising the leg off the floor a few inches will also stretch your hamstring (along the back of your thigh).
Repeat with the left leg.
To stretch the front of your thigh (the quadricep muscle), stand up straight and hold your right foot with your right hand against the back of your right thigh (or as near as you can comfortably hold it).
Hold for a few seconds and repeat with the left leg.
If these moves feel painful or tender, that’s a sign you need to take it slow and spend more time performing gentle stretches before doing anything more strenuous.
If a leg cramp strikes in the night, try lying flat on your back and slowly pulling your toes back so your heels are pressing into the mattress and your toes are pointing at the ceiling.
Repeat a few times.
Then pull your knees towards your chest and hold for a few moments. This will give the cramping muscles a gentle stretch and get blood flowing to the muscle groups in the legs.
A simple self-massage can provide relief for most cramps and muscle spasms. For cramps in the calf area, sit on a chair with the affected leg resting on another chair, coffee table or something of a similar height.
Starting at your heel and using long strokes, sweep your hand up the back of your calf, pressing into the calf muscle with your thumbs using medium pressure.
If the muscle is actively spasming and feels hard to touch, rest the area until the spasm has subsided slightly before massaging.
Although scientists aren’t certain about the connection between diet and the likelihood of muscle cramps, they have been linked to low levels of calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Therefore, a diet rich in these minerals might help defend you against them.
This means eating a balanced diet including fruit and vegetables, legumes, avocados, nuts, and whole grains.
Last updated: 13 January 2022