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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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Leg Cramps
July 2000

Q. What can I do to alleviate a leg cramp while it is happening and what can I do to prevent them? I take potassium supplements when I overexert myself, I drink plenty of water and Gatorade. However, I am still getting severe leg cramps.

A. Few people have been spared the pain of a leg cramp. These usually occur in the calf and can be incredibly uncomfortable. When you experience a leg cramp it good for you or someone with you to gently stretch the muscle that is cramping. If it is the calf muscle, for example, slowly push back on the foot so that the toes face upward (towards your face). This will stretch the calf. Other cramps can be treated in a similar fashion. Once the cramp has been alleviated, you can usually stand up and again gently stretch the muscle. To prevent leg cramps, it is best to drink plenty of fluids (like you are doing) and to daily stretch the muscles that are affected. So, for example, if you're having calf cramps stretching both calf muscles (even if only one muscle is affected) usually eliminates the problem within seven days.

If the cramps persist you can try a medication called quinine. You can see your doctor about that.

You can read more about quinine at http://www.pharminfo.com/pubs/msb/legcramp239.html. If you're interested in reading more medical literature, there's an excellent list of references at: http://www.pharmacytimes.com/legref.html. Other medications that might be helpful include vitamin E, verapamil, Benadryl, and a few others, though no randomized trials have been conducted on these alternative treatments.

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