Sports massage therapist

A leg cramp is an involuntary contraction or spasm of a muscle in the leg or foot. They usually occur at night or after an increase in exercise or exertion, which can lead to cramp-causing lactic-acid buildup.

To ease a cramp, don't point your toes; rather, flex them, and breathe deeply as you relax. This helps infuse oxygen into the muscles. As the cramp releases, you can slowly massage the leg. Always massage toward the heart so that you drain the lymph. Then try some gentle kneading to increase circulation and blood flow to the muscles.

Leg cramps can also be caused by deficiencies in B-complex vitamins. Lack of vitamin C may also be responsible for pain in the muscles or joints. To avoid getting leg cramps, eat nutritionally balanced foods, such as dark leafy greens, which have sufficient amounts of these nutrients.

Chamomile tea with fresh ginger is a wonderful remedy. Chamomile acts as a sedative for the nerves and, like dark leafy greens, is high in calcium, magnesium, and other trace minerals. Ginger is warming to the body and helps increase circulation.
-Kate Montgomery, ND, Elkhart, Indiana; author of End Your Carpal Tunnel Pain Without Surgery (Sports Touch, 2007)

Sports nutritionist

Muscle cramps are poorly understood, but often occur when an athlete is dehydrated. Most often I see them in athletes who sweat a lot and whose sweat is salty. You can learn your sweat rate by weighing yourself before and after an hour of exercise to see how much water weight you lose. If you exercise for an hour and lose 4 pounds, that's equivalent to a half-gallon of sweat. Then you know you need to drink that much for every hour of exercise to help prevent dehydration. If there is salt on your skin after the sweat dries, then you're a salty sweater, and you may need to eat salty foods before exercise. The salt helps retain fluids and delay dehydration.

When you experience leg cramps, another factor to consider is your calcium intake. Calcium plays an essential role in muscle contractions, so you should include some milk, yogurt, or another calcium-rich food in your diet every day.

If the problem persists and you find it has nothing to do with nutrition, a trainer or physical therapist might be able to identify changes you should make in your training or conditioning.
-Nancy Clark, MS, RD, Healthworks Fitness Center, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts; author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook (Human Kinetics, 2008)

Naturopathic doctor

There are several different kinds of leg cramps. Nocturnal leg cramps are more common in seniors and people with diabetes, people with flat feet, people who sit a lot, and people prone to dehydration. Exercise-related cramps can be caused by dehydration or a deficiency of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and sometimes zinc. Medications, such as certain inhaled bronchodilators, blood pressure or heart medicines, and chemotherapy drugs, can also cause cramping.

When patients have a bout of leg cramps, I have them take 5 pellets of homeopathic Magnesia phosphorica 6X every five minutes. This quickly helps relieve muscle cramps. To prevent cramps, I will suggest supplements of 500 mg of calcium and 200-250 mg of magnesium twice daily. I also remind patients to drink adequate water.

In addition to daily stretching of the legs and calves, I recommend taking a multivitamin and multimineral formula and drinking 6 ounces of low-sodium vegetable juice daily for extra potassium. If a patient has bad varicose veins and circulatory problems, then I recommend herbs, such as horse chestnut, butcher's broom, and pine-bark extract, to improve circulation.
-Mark Stengler, ND, La Jolla Whole Heath, La Jolla, California