Calf cramps: causes, treatment & prevention

Wadenkrämpfe: Ursachen, Behandlung & Vorbeugung

Usually they come unexpectedly and painfully - calf cramps. This spasmodic hardening of the muscles is usually harmless and goes away within a few seconds. Only rarely is a serious illness behind the cramps. Calf cramps are not uncommon, almost half of Germans have already suffered from such a cramp.

Pregnant women, the elderly, athletes and women represent special risk groups. Luckily, calf cramps can often be remedied with simple means and in a short time. In this article we have summarized what you should know about calf cramps and how you can prevent them.

the essentials in brief

  • Calf cramps often occur at night, during or shortly after exercise, when walking or during pregnancy.
  • Calf cramps can usually be relieved immediately by stretching the calf. It helps to sit or stand and push your heel down.
  • The most common cause of calf cramps is a lack of liquid or electrolytes in the body. (1)

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Definition: What are calf cramps?

A muscle spasm is an uncontrollable contraction of a specific muscle group. In the case of a calf cramp, the flexor muscles of the lower leg involuntarily contract and become noticeably harder. For seconds or even several minutes, the muscles cannot relax again.

However, a calf cramp is not a muscular problem, as is initially assumed. The contraction and thus the movement of the muscles is normally controlled by the nerves. These are directly connected to the muscle fibers and give the signals to "contract" or "relax".

During a cramp, the brain sends false information to the nerves. Therefore, a sudden depolarization occurs in the nerve membrane, which then triggers so-called action potentials (or nerve impulses). These nerve impulses cause the muscle in the calf to spasm painfully.(2) The muscle is constantly tight and begins to hurt.

Background: What you should know about calf cramps

Although leg cramps can be very painful and uncomfortable, in most cases they are harmless. They often first become noticeable as a slight muscle twitch and then develop into a real spasm in which many muscle fibers contract. You can usually counteract them right from the start and prevent the cramp from occurring in the first place.

However, if you regularly or permanently suffer from calf cramps, it is advisable to consult a doctor. When you should go to the doctor and all other questions that arise most frequently in connection with calf cramps, we will answer them here. At the end of the article you will of course find the best tips on how to prevent calf cramps and what role your diet plays in this.

How do calf cramps develop?

As described above, when you have a calf cramp, the muscles in your lower leg involuntarily contract. This is brought about by misinformation within the nervous system. This misinformation can be caused by a lack of minerals.

Minerals and proteins are responsible for controlling the muscles in the body. This deficiency can cause a disturbance in the interaction of nerve impulses and muscles. This is how the brain mistakenly sends the signal "pucker" when there is no reason for it. At the same time, however, information on how to relax the calf muscles is missing. The muscle is permanently tense and therefore begins to hurt.

What causes calf cramps?

The exact reasons for calf cramps have not yet been fully clarified. What is certain is that a cramp usually occurs due to various factors. This can be excessive cold or heat, or unusual muscle movements. Sometimes a malposition of the feet (e.g. flat arch, splay foot) can also be to blame for a cramp.

In most cases, however, calf cramps are caused by a lack of liquid and the associated lack of electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals and are responsible for many tasks in the body. Magnesium, potassium and calcium are primarily associated with calf cramps.

The most common reason for leg cramps is dehydration.

Dehydration occurs when you sweat a lot, for example in summer when temperatures are high or when you exercise. (2) You also lose a lot of fluids due to vomiting or diarrhea, which should definitely be taken up again.

Other causes can also be increased coffee or alcohol consumption, smoking, stress or lack of sleep. (3)

Are leg cramps dangerous?

Calf cramps are not dangerous for the muscle. However, dangerous situations can arise if a calf cramp occurs, for example, while swimming or driving a car. It is therefore advisable to always drink enough to prevent such dangerous situations.

However, if the calf cramps are extremely painful and significantly affect your daily routine or your night's sleep, you should consider having a diagnosis made by your doctor. Especially if the calf cramps occur with numbness or tingling in the legs.

Why do you get calf cramps after exercising?

If you are untrained or practice new sports with "unfamiliar movements", you may be more likely to have a calf cramp. The changed movement sequence, for example if you swim instead of cycling, increases the risk of getting a calf cramp.

Permanent high stress, for example endurance sports such as jogging or cycling, can quickly lead to mechanical overloading of the muscles. These are then overstimulated and heavily stressed. Because of this, the nervous system then tends to send out the misinformation that leads to a spasm.

How do I relieve a calf cramp?

First aid for a calf cramp: In order to relieve a suddenly occurring calf cramp, you should first perform a counter-movement. It is best to push your heel into the floor or forward to stretch the calf muscles. This movement can be performed while sitting or standing.

If your calf is too cramped to perform this movement, have someone nearby stretch your leg. It can also be helpful to send other information to the brain, to distract it, so to speak. You can do this with a sip of vinegar water, for example. Researchers have not yet been able to find out the exact reason for this, but at least it can relieve the spasm.

Alternating showers with hot and ice-cold water also have a relaxing effect. You can also try to relieve the calf cramp with a light massage.

Why do you get leg cramps during pregnancy?

Especially during pregnancy, there is often an uneven distribution of the fluid balance. Due to the increased stress on the body and the more frequent urge to urinate, pregnant women lose more liquid and thus many important minerals.

In addition, a baby is cared for and receives minerals and nutrients from the mother. Therefore, leg cramps occur in many pregnant women, especially in the second half of pregnancy.(4)


During pregnancy, women have an increased risk of leg cramps. (Image source: pixabay / cparks)

Due to the enlargement of the uterus, the enlarged uterus can pinch a nerve. As a result, the signal transmission to the muscles, especially to the leg muscles, is inhibited.

Another cause can also be the additional strain on the legs due to the increased weight. Since pregnant women are more likely to be affected, more attention should be paid to eating a balanced diet and drinking enough fluids during this time.

Which diseases are manifested by calf cramps?

Although leg cramps are harmless in themselves, they can be a symptom of serious illnesses. However, since other factors also play a role here, you should consult a doctor if you suspect something to be sure. When diagnosing, you should know when and how often the cramps occur. You should also tell the doctor if you have any other medical conditions. We have listed the most common diseases associated with leg cramps.

  • Acute infectious diseases (influenza)
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • disc disease
  • diabetes mellitus
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (acute or chronic: Crohn's disease)
  • muscle diseases
  • Disorder of the nervous system (e.g. due to MS)
  • Hypofunction of the adrenal gland (Addison's disease)
  • hypofunction of the parathyroid gland
  • Celiac disease (gluten intolerance)

This list includes some serious diseases, but the cause of your calf cramps can also be something else entirely. We are not medical professionals, so we would like to emphasize that this is only a list of possible medical conditions and not a sound diagnosis.

However, if you suspect a serious illness and notice other symptoms, please do not hesitate to have yourself thoroughly examined.

Why do calf cramps usually occur during sleep?

There is a simple reason why calf cramps occur more frequently at night and during sleep. While we're sleeping, we can't immediately counteract the small signs of a cramp. So we don't notice the small muscle twitches of the individual fibers. That is why we usually only wake up when we are already in severe pain.

Calf cramps are just as common during the day, but then we are able to quickly avert the cramp before it becomes a painful hardening.

Which nutrient deficiency promotes calf cramps?

Most commonly, a lack of sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium leads to calf cramps. Sodium helps balance fluids in the body and is also responsible for the normal functioning of nerves and muscles. About 1500 mg of sodium should be supplied to the body per day through food or liquid.

The most important nutrients for the electrolyte balance are: magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium.

Potassium is instrumental in transmitting nerve signals to the muscles. Therefore, all of these substances should be present in the body in sufficient quantities. The daily requirement for an adult is 4000 mg. (1)

Magnesium and calcium affect the activity between nerve cells and muscles and muscle contraction. The daily requirement of magnesium depends on age and gender, but is generally between 300 - 400 mg per day. The daily requirement for calcium is slightly higher, namely around 900 mg. (amount for adults)

If you get calf cramps despite an adequate supply of magnesium , special medication can also be the trigger.

Can you prevent calf cramps?

That is the good news. Yes, you can counteract calf cramps with inexpensive and simple measures. You should find out which option suits you best. This can be, for example, a certain type of sport, such as swimming or Nordic walking.

But you can also prevent calf cramps through diet. You can find out which foods are suitable and which exercises we recommend for you here. You can also use special supplements to build up your electrolyte balance. Basically, you should always make sure that you drink enough mineral water or liquids in general.

Calf cramps: The best tips & tricks to help against calf cramps

A miracle cure for calf cramps has not yet been found. Magnesium supplements are usually recommended, but overdose can lead to fatigue. Good results have been achieved with quinine therapy. (5) For such special therapies, however, you should definitely seek medical advice.

In most cases, you can easily prevent calf cramps yourself. We have listed the best home remedies and foods that contain the appropriate minerals below. In addition to sport and the right foods, we also recommend that you avoid alcohol and nicotine.

Relieve calf cramps with home remedies

There are many different ways to prevent calf cramps. It is often advisable to try home remedies before resorting to medication or nutritional supplements.

  • Contrast showers with alternately hot and cold water help to strengthen blood circulation and can thus prevent cramps.
  • Drink cucumber water: The water from pickles helps shorten the duration of cramps. A study has shown that the vinegar-containing water from gherkins can help to alleviate the symptoms in the long term. For this, 1 milliliter of cucumber water should be drunk per kilogram of body weight. (6)
  • Drinking apple cider vinegar: The acidic liquid can also help counteract the cramps.
  • Vinegar wraps: Wraps with towels soaked in vinegar can prevent and relieve calf cramps.
  • Proper footwear: Not a home remedy in the traditional sense, but essential when it comes to preventing calf cramps. Especially when hiking or walking, you should make sure you wear the right shoes. They should support your foot and not be too tight.

Vinegar seems to be a really helpful tool in preventing leg cramps. However, since there are many different factors involved in calf cramps, there is no absolutely safe way to prevent them. It is best to try out for yourself which method will help you best and most effectively.


Calf cramps can be prevented with light stretching or yoga exercises. (Image source: pixabay / jeviniya)

Prevent calf cramps with sport

Calf cramps occur when muscles are overexerted. To counteract this, you can do sports. Find something that brings you joy. Whether cross-country skiing, inline skating or yoga. Regular but continuous exercise strengthens your calf muscles.

Gentle stretching can also help you to prevent calf cramps while remaining mobile and flexible. You can easily do the exercises at home in a few minutes. There are many free videos on the internet that will help you stretch your leg muscles properly. The listed sports are also suitable for pregnant women.

  • Nordic Walking : Easy walking with a slightly faster step strengthens the muscles and stimulates blood circulation. This means that the muscle is no longer overloaded so quickly and calf cramps can be prevented.
  • Stretching: Stretching well before and after exercise can prevent calf cramps. Good exercises are, for example, the "runner stretch", in which one leg is bent at a right angle and the other is stretched backwards. This noticeably stretches the calf muscles.
  • Yoga: The gentle stretching exercises help the body to "equalize" the muscles. Postures in which the calves are stretched are particularly suitable. For example the "Downward Dog" or the "Standing Forward Bend".
  • Swimming: This sport promotes blood circulation and is also easy on the joints.

Continuous training adapted to your performance can help you to prevent calf cramps. Make sure you warm up well before exercising and stretch extensively afterwards. Allow yourself long breaks in which your body can recover from the training. Put your legs up after exercise to stimulate blood circulation more. This way you can reduce the risk of getting a painful cramp.

Combat calf cramps through diet

It is best for your body if you counteract a nutrient deficiency through a healthy diet. You should eat enough fruit and vegetables, and legumes such as nuts provide you with a sufficient amount of all the substances your body needs. Dairy products provide the body with a lot of calcium, including quark, yoghurt or cow's milk. You should also drink enough fluids every day in the form of water or unsweetened tea.

We have created a table for you with the fruits and vegetables that provide the most magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium. We've also added grains and nuts.

Fruit Vegetables grains and nuts
blackberries, raspberries spinach, peas Oatmeal, Barley, Soy
bananas, strawberries carrots, kohlrabi hazelnuts, cashew nuts
Dried figs or apricots Broccoli, Chinese cabbage almonds, quinoa
Rhubarb, Currants pumpkin, turmeric whole grain products

get rid of cramps!

Try our liposomal magnesium now

  • Enriched with zinc, selenium, chromium and taurine 🧪
  • Developed for people who often suffer from cramps 💪
  • Get a 21% discount now 💰*

Sunt Icon

*The discount is automatically applied to the product

In addition to a balanced diet, there is the option of taking the appropriate minerals and nutrients through dietary supplements. There are many different manufacturers. Make sure that the manufacturers are reputable and the preparations are of high quality. Also, follow the dosing instructions and do not exceed the recommended daily dose.


Calf cramps can be uncomfortable and very painful. Especially because they often occur unexpectedly and suddenly. Basically, you shouldn't worry. A calf cramp, especially after a hard day or high physical activity, is usually harmless. Causes can be stress, lack of sleep, lack of minerals, lack of fluids in the body and lack of electrolytes. Alcohol and nicotine as well as the wrong shoes are conducive to cramps.

If you suffer from permanent and very severe calf cramps, which occur with other symptoms of other illnesses, it makes sense to consult a doctor to rule out serious illnesses.

With the help of light stretching exercises and sports units, you can help counteract the unpleasant cramps. With the appropriate, healthy diet, you provide your body with all the nutrients it needs to function properly. But you can also easily saturate your nutrient balance with food supplements, such as magnesium in tablet or powder form . We hope this article has helped you answer all of your questions about leg cramps.


      Hohmann, C. (2008). Finely balanced ions. In Pharmaceutical Newspaper. 44 / 2008.
      Albers, B. (2019). Frequent calf cramps - what helps? German Society for Neurology
      Reichel, G. (2009). Muscle cramps - differential diagnosis and therapy. In Medical Monthly for Pharmacists. 04/2009
      Kocyłowski, R., Lewicka, I., Grzesiak, M. et al. Assessment of dietary intake and mineral status in pregnant women. Arch Gynecol Obstet 297, 1433-1440 (2018).
      Diener, HC., Building Law, W. (2019). Quinine sulfate in the therapy of nocturnal calf cramps: tolerability, compliance, quality of life and influence on symptoms. In MMW 6/2019
      A Wolter. Sour muscles? Pickles! in physio practice 2017; 15 (1); pp. 46-49
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