Leg cramps: The best tips, tricks & home remedies for leg cramps

Krämpfe in den Beinen: Die besten Tipps, Tricks & Hausmittel gegen Krämpfe in den Beinen

Leg cramps are painful, annoying and mostly unnecessary. They can usually be avoided simply by drinking plenty of water or eating a balanced diet. But how does such a cramp actually develop and what can be the causes? We want to answer these questions for you here in detail.

In this article we have put together all the information you need to know about leg cramps. We have also put together some tips and tricks for you that you can use to prevent and treat leg cramps.

the essentials in brief

  • Leg cramps are often caused by unfamiliar or unusual stress. For example, if you have done an excessive amount of sport.
  • Drinking enough water and eating a balanced diet can prevent you from missing out on important nutrients that would mess up your nervous system.
  • You can get quick help by taking magnesium or by doing small stretching exercises. However, these only work if you do not have a serious illness.

Background: What you should know about leg cramps

Cramps in the legs and feet can be quite uncomfortable. They come unexpectedly, sometimes at night and can be quite painful. But how do they actually develop and how can you prevent cramps? We want to clarify these questions at this point.

How do leg cramps occur?

We primarily feel a cramp in the muscle. However, it is not the muscle itself that is responsible for the pain, but the nerves. The nerve cell that sends the impulse to contract or relax the muscle then sends more impulses than normal. The muscle is overwhelmed and doesn't know how to react and the cramp is already noticeable. (1)

legs in the water

We often get leg cramps while in the water. Then the main thing is to keep calm and try to stretch your leg anyway. Otherwise it can be dangerous. (Image source: Anelya Okapova/ unsplash)

If you suffer from cramps several times a week or if they are extremely painful, be sure to have this checked out by a doctor. This should then differentiate between nocturnal leg cramps, restless legs syndrome and periodic limb disorders.(2)

What causes leg cramps?

There are many causes of leg cramps and they are mostly caused by an unfavorable lifestyle. For example, overloading the muscles through excessive sport.(3) A one-sided posture or a malposition of the foot, such as a flat foot, also has an unfavorable effect on cramps.

But not only an unfavorable foot position, lying uncomfortably or not drinking enough can be causes of cramps in the legs. Sometimes there are also deeper problems, such as muscle fatigue or nerve dysfunction. Electrolytes or other abnormalities are also responsible for the cramps, which we want to go into more detail at this point.(4)

electrolyte balance

Electrolytes are minerals or macro minerals that are required by the body in fairly large amounts. These minerals carry an electrical charge that converts to ions in aqueous solutions. The electrolytes sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate in particular are responsible for keeping the acid-base balance and the water balance in balance.(5)

The water balance determines our electrolyte balance, since they essentially depend on each other.(6)

So if we drink too little, our electrolyte balance can get messed up. The macro minerals such as sodium or potassium can then be too low in the body and the nervous system sends the wrong impulses, which can lead to cramps. If this is the cause of your cramps, then it is usually enough to pay attention to the amount of liquid you have consumed. However, it is best to clarify this with your doctor.

nerve disorders

A good interaction between the nervous system and the muscles is important so that the muscles get the right impulses to contract or relax. If this is disturbed, cramps in the legs can occur, among other things. In this form of the cause, the nervous system itself is damaged and not just the communication to the muscles.

Part of the nervous system is in the brain and part is in the spinal cord. Damage can occur in both parts, which causes muscle cramps in the legs as a symptom. This can happen, for example, in the case of a herniated disc, which then damages the nerve cords in the spine. Other examples of nerve disorders are: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and polyneuropathies. Polyneuropathies can be caused by diabetes or alcohol damage.(7)

muscle diseases

Leg cramps can be caused not only in the nerves, but also in the muscle itself. This is rather rare and will definitely be diagnosed by a doctor. The skeletal muscles are then affected by muscle weakness, muscle breakdown or stiffening and rarely have a calf cramp as a symptom. In the disease Myotonia congenita Thomsen, the muscles become tense but can only relax slowly and with difficulty. This disease is hereditary and therefore rather rare. (7)

How can I prevent leg cramps?

Since most leg cramps are harmless and are usually caused by momentary stress or change, they are also easy to prevent. It is important that you make sure you drink enough water and eat a balanced diet.(8) In this way you can be sure that you are supplied with all the necessary macro and micronutrients so that your nervous system does not get confused and send the wrong impulses.

man drinks water

Drinking enough water keeps the electrolyte balance in balance. Drinking should not be neglected, especially when exercising. (Image source: Nigel Msipa/ unsplash)

If you are active in sports, make sure that you drink enough water. If you forget this during exercise, have your water ready for afterwards. Also, be careful not to overdo it. Listen to your body and stop exercising as soon as you realize that it is no longer good for you.

Leg cramps: The best tips & tricks against leg cramps

Since most leg cramps are not symptoms of a serious illness, there are simple remedies that can be used to remedy the situation. Magnesium and stretching exercises are probably the most common and effective means. How exactly you have to use them so that they help you is explained in the following section.

Treat leg cramps with magnesium

When we have leg cramps, we are often told to take magnesium first. While the effectiveness of magnesium supplements is recognized(9), it has not yet been adequately researched and other medications need further investigation.(10)

Pregnant women who often have leg cramps have a very good chance of improvement with magnesium. A Bangkok study in 2012 confirmed that magnesium can help these women without causing side effects like nausea or diarrhea.(11)

If you don’t want to take supplements, you can also use the following foods that naturally contain a lot of magnesium:(12)

  • green leafy vegetables
  • nuts
  • legumes
  • whole grains

In this way, a balanced diet is already ensured, because these foods are an essential part of a colorful and healthy diet.

Anyone who suffers from skeletal muscle spasms definitely has less of a chance of recovery with magnesium.(13) However, as described above, such spasms are usually symptoms of genetic diseases and are diagnosed and treated accordingly by the doctor.

Combat leg cramps with stretching exercises

A sudden cramp in the legs or in the foot can usually be remedied quickly with an outstretched leg and flexed foot. If you often suffer from leg cramps, you can also try the following stretching exercises.

Stretching exercise with an auxiliary band

If you often wake up with cramps at night, you can buy a support band and put it right next to your bed. Alternatively, you can also use a scarf or towel. If the cramp wakes you up, you can easily grab your band and wrap it around your foot. Your leg is still bent. Now pull your toes towards you and slowly try to straighten your leg. At the latest when your leg is stretched out straight, your cramp should be over.

woman stretching

Leg cramps often occur, especially after an unusual or long period of exertion, such as during sports. It helps to stretch directly after exercise, even if you don't feel any cramps yet. (Image source: run 4 ffwpu/pexels)

Sometimes you wake up after a calf cramp with a slight feeling of pain. If this is the case for you, you can also roll over a foam roller again. But then proceed from both sides. That means first the shin and then the calf over the fascia roller.

Stretching exercise without aids

If you're out and about and don't have your support band at hand, you can also simply stretch your leg while standing. Stand with your cramping leg behind you and press your heel firmly into the floor. You can bend the front leg slightly and lean your upper body slightly forward. This will deepen the stretch in your cramping leg. The whole thing also works well if you can support yourself against a wall, for example.


A leg cramp is annoying and painful, but usually not serious. You can be preventively active and eat a balanced diet and make sure you drink enough water. If it is acute and you need help quickly, you can stretch your leg or take magnesium. If you regularly get leg cramps or they are unnaturally painful or increasing in intensity, then you should always see a doctor to make sure you don't have a serious condition.


  1. Müller, Ingrid/ Felchner, Carola: Calf cramps. 2019
  2. Hallegraeff J, de Greef M, Krijnen W, van der Schans C. Criteria in diagnosing nocturnal leg cramps: a systematic review. BMC Family Practice. 2017 Feb 28;18(1):29. doi: 10.1186/s12875-017-0600-x. PMID: 28241802; PMCID: PMC5330021.
  3. Bordoni B, Sugumar K, Varacallo M. Muscle Cramps. 2020 Sep 13. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan–. PMID: 29763070.
  4. Allen RE, Kirby KA. Nocturnal leg cramps. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Aug 15;86(4):350-5. PMID: 22963024.
  5. Lewis, James L. III.: Overview of Electrolytes, Birmingham 2018.
  6. Bendien, Pascal/ Wisbauer, Stefan: Electrolyte household, Leipzig 2020.
  7. Blank-Koppenleitner, Andrea: Calf cramps - causes: nerve disorders, Apotheken Umschau, 2018.
  8. KearTM. Fluid and Electrolyte Management Across the Age Continuum. Nephrol Nurs J. 2017 Nov-Dec;44(6):491-496. PMID: 29281773.
  9. Roffe C, Sills S, Crome P, Jones P. Randomised, cross-over, placebo controlled trial of magnesium citrate in the treatment of chronic persistent leg cramps. Med Sci Monitor. 2002 May;8(5):CR326-30. PMID: 12011773.
  10. Blyton F, Chuter V, Walter KE, Burns J. Non-drug therapies for lower limb muscle cramps. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jan 18;1(1):CD008496. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008496.pub2. PMID: 22258986; PMCID: PMC6481449.
  11. Supakatisant C, Phupong V. Oral magnesium for relief in pregnancy-induced leg cramps: a randomized controlled trial. Matern Child Nutr. 2015 Apr;11(2):139-45. doi: 10.1111/j.1740-8709.2012.00440.x. Epub 2012 Aug 22. PMID: 22909270; PMCID: PMC6860204.
  12. Guerrera MP, Volpe SL, Mao JJ. Therapeutic uses of magnesium. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Jul 15;80(2):157-62. PMID: 19621856.
  13. Garrison SR, Allan GM, Sekhon RK, Musini VM, Khan KM. Magnesium for skeletal muscle cramps. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Sep 12;2012(9):CD009402. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009402.pub2. Updated in: Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020 Sep 21;9:CD009402. PMID: 22972143; PMCID: PMC7025716.
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