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Leg pain and cramps are fairly common and usually are not serious, but they typically are not enjoyable, either. The best treatment for them involves massage, heat therapy and pain-relieving medication as well as exercises to reduce the chances of recurrence. A person can usually treat himself, but those who suffer from leg cramps regularly should speak to a healthcare professional.
Many people have had the experience of waking up in the middle of the night with excruciating calf pain, and when such a charley horse strikes, the first tendency is usually to try to straighten out the leg and massage the muscle that is causing the pain. This instinctive reaction is actually the best way to ease a leg cramp, and applying a warm heating pad to the painful area also is effective for immediate relief. If the pain persists, the person can take a pain reliever such as aspirin or ibuprofen to help ease the pain.
If pain and cramps in the legs are a rare occurrence, there is no need to do anything more than treat them when they occur, but if a person suffers from this condition often, there are a number of preventive measures that can help reduce their frequency and severity. Dehydration is a common cause of nocturnal leg cramps, so the sufferer may find that increasing the amount of water he drinks every day might be enough to solve the problem. Alcohol can cause dehydration, so limiting its use is recommended.
A calcium and/or magnesium deficiency also might cause calf pain, so a person who frequently has leg cramps or charley horses should eat foods that are rich in these two minerals to see whether this takes care of the problem. Milk, broccoli, nuts and beans are rich in calcium and magnesium. Adding a daily supplement that contains both nutrients is a good way to ensure that an individual gets enough of these important minerals.
A potassium deficiency can also cause muscle cramps. As with the other minerals, adding more potassium to the diet can often help prevent crams from happening. Foods that are rich in potassium include bananas, oranges, tomatoes, broccoli and grapes.
A lack of exercise can also contribute to leg pain and cramps, so regular stretching and movement can help. Standing a little more than arm's length away from the wall, then leaning forward with the arms extended until the palms are against the wall, can help stretch the calf muscles. Another exercise is standing on a stairway with one hand on a railing for balance and the heels hanging off a step, then raising and lowering the heels. These are excellent exercises for stretching and strengthening the calf muscles.
Leg cramps are not to be confused with restless leg syndrome, which is characterized by a crawling sensation in the legs. If common treatments don't help alleviate the cramps, or if they occur with great frequency, the sufferer should consult with a medical professional who can determine if there is a more a serious underlying medical condition.