Alert
Close

Earn Double Rewards Points: Take the AARP Social Security True/False Quiz

HIGHLIGHTS

Close

2014 NATIONAL EVENT

Health & Wellness
AARP Auto Buying Program

Download the ipad App

AARP-iPad-ePub-app

DRIVER SAFETY

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

Contests and
Sweeps

Safe Driving in 2014 Sweepstakes

Learn how AARP Driver Safety can help you stay safe—and enter for a chance to win $1,000. See official rules. 

KEEP BRAIN ACTIVE!

AARP Games - Play Now!

AARP BOOKS

Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies

Get expert advice on planning for your own or a relative’s future care needs.

Webinars

Learn From the Experts

Sign up now for an upcoming webinar or find materials from a past session.

Learning centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.

 

Arthritis

Heart Disease

Diabetes

Most Popular

Viewed

share your thoughts

What does the health care law mean to you? Your story is important. We read and learn from every story and it helps us in our educational efforts. We may even use your comments (with permission) to brief legislators, inspire readers and more. Please share your story with us. Do

Kick Leg Cramps

6 tips for easing the pain of a charley horse

En español | It’s happened to practically everyone: A sudden, painful cramp in your leg or foot startles you awake in the middle of the night. Studies suggest that one-third to one-half of people over 60 get these involuntary muscle contractions on a regular basis, and their frequency may increase with age. Lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several excruciating minutes, cramps occur when irritated nerves send muscles a signal to repeatedly contract.

Sign up for the AARP Health Newsletter.

Woman stretching her calf - How to Deal with Leg Cramps

If a leg cramp strikes, stretching may provide some much needed relief. — Photo by Image Source/Getty Images

No one knows for sure exactly what causes cramps in otherwise healthy adults, but a number of risk factors may make older people more susceptible, says Basil Eldadah, M.D., program officer at the National Institute on Aging. These include deficiencies in key minerals, not getting enough to drink, poor muscle conditioning and certain medications. Though leg cramps aren’t typically life-threatening, he says, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor to be sure they aren’t related to an underlying condition.

So how can you keep muscle spasms from interrupting your sleep and generally interfering with your quality of life? Don’t reach for quinine, a drug prescribed for leg cramps since the 1940s. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now warns against its use because of potentially serious side effects. Instead, try these tips.

Stretch

If you’re in the throes of a cramp, stretching can provide relief. For a foot or calf cramp, sit or lie down and flex the toes of the affected leg or foot upward toward your nose, says Eldadah. This action works by pulling the calf and foot muscles in the opposite direction of the contracted muscles. Massaging the area could minimize discomfort too.

Studies looking at whether stretching can prevent nighttime cramps yield mixed results. Still, some experts recommend loosening muscles that are prone to cramping by doing stretches before bed. “Stretching may help and it has minimal risk,” says Eldadah.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website includes additional stretches, tailored for older adults, that concentrate on the calf muscles, the quadriceps muscles in the front of the leg and the hamstring muscles in the back.

Check your meds

A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that several diuretics (used to treat hypertension), statins (used to treat high blood cholesterol) and long-acting beta agonists (used to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among other conditions) may worsen nocturnal cramps. If cramps become a problem after you’ve started taking one of these types of medications, talk to your doctor about your symptoms

Next: A diet rich in these minerals may prevent cramps. >>

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Woman trying on glasses in optometrists shop

Members save up to 60% on eye exams and 30% on glasses at JCPenney Optical.

Prescription medication spilling out of bottle

Members get a free Rx card from AARP® Prescription Discounts provided by Catamaran.

AngiesList

Members can save 25% to 45% on their Angie's List membership.

Caregiving walking

Caregiving can be a lonely journey, but AARP offers resources that can help.