At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
One of the more severe types of leg cramps, a calf cramp is a painful episode in which the muscles of the calf contract uncontrollably. Cramps of this type are not unusual among athletes and other people who are physically active. People working in professions that require a great deal of standing and walking are also at higher risk for developing cramps of this type. Fortunately, calf cramps are easily treated.
There are several causes that can lead to the development of a calf cramp. Dehydration is one of the most common reasons for the cramps to appear. People who are physically active may deplete the body’s resources more quickly, especially in hot weather. Often, simply replacing the lost fluid by drinking water will help to ease the frequency and severity of the cramps.
Another common cause for a calf cramp is low levels of potassium and sodium. During exercise and other forms of strenuous physical exertion, sodium can be depleted from the body during the process of perspiration. Potassium levels can get low simply because of a poor diet. Many sports drinks provide a quick supply of both nutrients, and can help to ease muscle cramps in the legs and elsewhere.
It is also possible to develop a calf cramp because of low carbohydrate consumption. A certain amount of carbohydrates are needed each day in order to keep the muscle systems in the body functioning properly. When there are not enough carbohydrates present to fuel the muscles adequately, involuntary contractions are likely to appear. Making sure to take in enough complex carbohydrates while avoiding a lot of simple carbohydrates will help to prevent cramps from taking place, and also make it easier to manage blood glucose levels.
Treating a calf cramp involves identifying the origin of the cramps and taking steps to correct the situation by replacing nutrients or making changes in the diet. For immediate relief from the cramps, massage can often help to relax stiff muscles and cause the cramping to subside. Some stretching exercises help to stop the cramping, although this approach should be discussed with a physical therapist in order to identify the right type of stretching to alleviate the painful contractions.
In some cases, the calf cramp may be a sign of an ongoing issue with one or muscle groups in the area, such as a muscle strain. When various remedies seem to be ineffectual, it is a good idea to see a doctor. The right tests can determine if there is some physical situation that is exacerbating the cramps, such as a damaged muscle. Once the strained or damage muscle is successfully treated, the cramping should disappear.