Thigh cramps: the best tips and tricks

Krämpfe im Oberschenkel: Die besten Tipps und Tricks

They come quickly, hurt the leg and are therefore very uncomfortable. While common thigh cramps aren't dangerous, they can be disabling. Therefore, in this article, we want to tell you everything you need to know about thigh cramps.

We will inform you about the background, such as the development and causes, but also the treatment of cramps in the thigh. At the end we have 8 tips for you on how to prevent and treat cramps.

the essentials in brief

  • Cramps are sudden, painful muscle contractions that occur involuntarily. They usually last from a few seconds to a maximum of ten minutes. Around 33% of leg cramps are in the thighs.
  • Dehydration and electrolyte depletion, excessive muscle strain, and other medical conditions can all cause thigh cramps. But personal history and medications with side effects can also play a role
  • Rest, stretching, heat and cold, but also massages and home remedies can help against cramps in the thighs. To prevent the unpleasant pain, you should pay attention to a balanced diet and appropriate exercise.

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Definition: What are cramps?

Cramps are sudden, painful muscle contractions. The muscle contracts involuntarily. The pain can occur with or without previous illnesses and is a problem for many people. (1,2,3)

Background: What you should know about thigh cramps

In order to be able to react appropriately to a cramp or even try out preventive methods, one should first understand the background of cramps. In the following sections we explain everything you need to know about thigh cramps.

How do thigh cramps develop?

The origin of the involuntary contraction of the muscles in the thigh is not fully understood. There is a hypothesis among researchers that cramps are caused by changes in the excitability of the executing nerve cells in the muscles. This thesis was confirmed by experiments and findings. Another hypothesis is that spasms are due to spontaneous discharges from the motor nerves. (3)

There is also evidence that the stretch receptors in tendons and muscles are involved in spasms.(4)

Symptoms: How do I recognize a thigh cramp?

A cramp in the thigh can be identified relatively easily due to the often unpleasant pain. Nevertheless, it can be helpful to find out about the medical symptoms.

Possible symptoms of thigh cramps: (5)

  • Strong pain
  • Localization in the thigh
  • Persistent subsequent pain
  • sleep disorders
  • stress

What muscles are in the thigh?

In order to understand and prevent the painful contraction of muscles in the thigh, you should know what muscles are located there.

The muscles in the thigh are:

group muscles function
front thigh muscles four-headed thigh muscle extension of the knee joint
front thigh muscles tailor muscle Flexion of the hip and knee joint
hamstring muscles biceps muscle of the thigh Extension and external rotation of the hip joint and flexion of the knee joint
hamstring muscles semitendon muscle Extension of the hip joint and flexion + rotation of the knee joint
hamstring muscles semimembranous muscle Extension of the hip joint and flexion of the knee joint
inner thigh muscles crest muscle Bend the hip joint and raise + rotate the thigh
inner thigh muscles long guide Bending the hip joint and raising the thigh
inner thigh muscles short adductor Bending the hip joint and raising the thigh
inner thigh muscles large adductor Bending the hip joint and raising the thigh
inner thigh muscles lean muscle Flex the hip joint, raise the thigh, and rotate the lower leg

The muscles in the thigh can be divided into three groups: hamstrings, hamstrings, and inner thighs.

How long does a thigh cramp usually last?

During the cramp you may be wondering: when will it stop? or is this still "normal"? But there is no reason to worry, because a cramp in the thigh can vary greatly in duration. A thigh cramp usually lasts from a few seconds to a maximum of ten minutes. (5.6)

What causes thigh cramps?

The causes of thigh cramps have not yet been adequately researched scientifically. Nevertheless, there are some theses for causes:

  • History: a history of cramps and major muscle damage during strenuous exertion (7)
  • Deficiency: Lack of fluid intake (dehydration), also due to water-inducing medication or after heavy sweating and lack of electrolytes (8,9,10)
  • Exertion: unusual physical exertion and heat (9)
  • Pregnancy: Cramps are generally very common during pregnancy (9)
  • Diseases: Serious diseases of the metabolism, nerves or internal organs, e.g. diabetes (type 1 or type 2) or an overactive thyroid gland, neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease or polyneuropathy(9,10)
  • Side effects: various medications can cause leg cramps. eg: various medicines for high blood pressure. (9.10)
  • malformations: e.g. B. Foot malformations such as flat feet (10)
  • Posture: Sitting for a long time, improper posture of the legs (10)
  • Hardening of the arteries: also called arteriosclerosis (10)

A medical history review, laboratory, and physical exam can help determine the individual causes of your muscle spasms.

What is wrong with the body during cramps?

If cramps often occur, for example during sports or at night, the question quickly arises as to what the body is missing. In fact, dehydration and a lack of electrolytes can increase the risk of seizures. This deficiency can occur, for example, when sweating.

The lack of the following substances can lead to cramps:

  • liquid (9)
  • Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium (9,11)

Thigh cramps also occur when you overload the muscle during exercise. Respect your boundaries and take enough breaks to prevent this from happening. (Image source: unsplash/ bruce mars)

What situations can lead to thigh cramps?

Nocturnal leg cramps affect up to 33% of the general population over the age of 50. (5) However, thigh cramps can be triggered in many situations:

  • at night, lying down
  • riding a bike or running, sports
  • after hip surgery or a herniated disc,
  • sitting
  • while driving
  • after alcohol consumption

What types of thigh muscle spasms are there?

There are three types of spasms in medicine:

kind group of people situation cause of the spasm
paraphysiological convulsions healthy people, pregnant women E.g. during sports, cycling due to unusually heavy external stress, lack of electrolytes
Symptomatic cramps people with illness every situation possible, especially at night and under load as a symptom of the disease or through medication
Idiopathic convulsions healthy people or with an undiagnosed disease every situation possible Cause has to be clarified, still unknown

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Who Can Get Thigh Cramps?

About one in three adults is affected by muscle cramps in the legs, i.e. thighs or lower legs. (5,12) In some people, spasms can even interfere with quality of life, quality of sleep, and participation in activities of daily living. According to one study, around 33% of leg cramps are in the thighs. (7)

In the following sections we provide information about groups of people who are at particularly high risk of cramps:

In the case of previous illnesses

The following diseases increase the risk of cramps:(9,10,13,14)

  • liver cirrhosis
  • high blood pressure
  • heart failure
  • ;angina pectoris
  • stroke
  • arthritis
  • respiratory diseases
  • Cancer
  • depression symptoms
  • serious diseases of internal organs
  • hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis)
  • metabolic diseases such as B. diabetes (type 1 or type 2) or an overactive thyroid
  • Neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease or polyneuropathy

convulsions in children

Thigh cramps can also occur in children, but here they are usually benign and self-limited. Rarely, however, an illness can also be the cause. Many affected children have leg cramps 1 to 4 times a year that last no longer than 2 minutes. The spasms are usually unilateral and occur when the children are asleep. (15.16)

convulsions in pregnant women

Cramps in general and also in the thighs are a common problem during pregnancy. The cramps are often triggered by a lack of electrolytes and overexertion. Whether taking magnesium helps pregnant women is answered differently in studies. Sometimes an improvement could be observed, sometimes the cramps were just as intense and frequent. (17.18)

convulsions in old age

The risk of thigh cramps increases with age. A shortening of the muscles can be decisive, which makes it easier to trigger a cramp. (4,5,14)

What can you do about thigh cramps?

There are numerous methods that can help against cramps in the thigh. We will explain more in detail in the next section.

In general, one can say that the following measures can help against muscle cramps in the thigh: (1,2,4,12,13,17,19,20)

  • Rest and passive stretching
  • lifestyle changes
  • treatment of underlying diseases
  • B complex vitamins, magnesium
  • Rarely drugs such as diltiezam, mexiletine, carbamazepine, tetrahydrocannabinoid, leveteracitam, quinine sulfate, taurine
  • cucumber water

Some of the methods mentioned are controversial and need to be further researched, for example to prevent side effects.

Can a thigh cramp be dangerous? When should I see the doctor?

Occasional weak cramps in the thigh are not dangerous. However, it is better to have them evaluated by a doctor, even if it is not urgent.

Disabling or long-lasting cramps should definitely be examined by your doctor. Thus, by discussing the history, physical examination and a laboratory test, the various causes of muscle spasms can be determined. (2.9)

What can you do if you have pain after a thigh cramp?

Sometimes the affected muscle still hurts minutes after the actual spasm has passed. Warming and massaging can help loosen any tight muscles.

What pain feels similar to a thigh cramp?

Other types of pain can also feel similar to a thigh cramp. In order to distinguish a sick person from other illnesses, one should observe whether the symptoms already explained above apply. (5.6)

Possible other diseases are:

  • Myalgia: muscle pain
  • Restless Legs Syndrome: Need to move and tingling in the legs
  • Spasticity: Increased internal tension in the skeletal muscles, due to damage to the brain or spinal cord

Thigh cramps: 8 tips and methods against the pain

Regardless of the situation, muscle cramps in the thighs are uncomfortable, painful and can severely impede everyday life. Therefore, we have explained 8 methods against pain in the following sections.

We will first introduce you to 4 methods for immediate help with cramps. We will then explain to you in 4 methods how you can prevent and prevent muscle cramps.

4 tips for immediate relief for thigh cramps

Tip 1: Relieve thigh cramps by stretching

Researchers have explained in scientific articles that counter-stretching the affected muscle can help with acute spasms. Stretching can also be supplemented with rest for the muscle. (4,8,21). Stretching the muscle relaxes it and allows the spasm to go away.

You should know which muscle is cramped in order to stretch it specifically. If you are not sure, it is better to discuss this with a medical professional.

Exercise for front thigh muscles

If you feel the cramp in an anterior muscle, the following exercise can help: Stand on the unaffected leg and pull the other foot towards your buttocks.

If you find it difficult to balance, fix your gaze on a fixed point or hold on to a chair. Hold the exercise for at least 30 seconds.

Exercise for hamstrings

If your cramp is more in the hamstrings, try this exercise: You'll need a towel. Now lie on your back and lift the affected leg straight. Wrap the towel around your leg and gently pull it toward you.

You can also do this exercise while sitting. Hold this exercise for at least 30 seconds. (22)

Tip 2: Relieve thigh cramps with heat or cold

Heat and cold can also help with thigh cramps. The heat stimulates blood circulation and relaxes the muscles.

Warm or cold? Both can help.

For example, you can warm the affected muscle with a hot water bottle, a heated cherry pit pillow, or a warm bath in the bathtub. A cooling pad or a wet towel is suitable for cooling.

Tip 3: Relieve thigh cramps with massage

According to the guidelines of the Commission guidelines of the German Society for Neurology, massages also help to relieve cramps in the thighs. (4)

A massage helps because it relaxes the muscles and stimulates blood circulation. It can also be applied during stretching or heat treatment for better effect.

Tip 4: Use home remedies to relieve thigh cramps

A scientific study (23) found that cucumber water quickly relieves cramps in dehydrated people.

Dosage: 1 ml x kg body weight

You should drink one milliliter of cucumber water per kilogram of body weight. You can find the cucumber water as a by-product in the jars with pickles.

cucumber water

Cucumber water can work as an immediate aid for acute cramps. (Image source: unsplash / Meggyn Pomerleau)

The cucumber water does not help by restoring body fluids or electrolytes quickly. On the other hand, it is suspected that the cucumber water already triggers a neutral effect in the mouth and throat area, which inhibits the triggering of neurons in the cramping muscle.

4 tips to prevent thigh cramps

Tip 1: Prevent thigh cramps with a balanced diet, minerals and vitamins

Since a possible cause of cramps is lack of electrolytes, a balanced diet can help prevent cramps.

You can take them through a balanced diet, juices or supplements.

Electrolytes include sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium as well as chloride, bicarbonate and phosphate. Whether supplementing with magnesium is effective against cramps is controversial.

Many scientific studies have not found any effectiveness, but few have. The study situation is not clear. (4.18)

Tip 2: Prevent thigh cramps with appropriate exercise

Even if you don't exercise regularly, you should exercise your hamstrings regularly. Running, simple exercises, and stretching can help loosen the muscle.

If you do sports, it is particularly important that you take enough breaks and respect the stress limits of your body.

Overworking your muscles can increase your risk of cramping.

Tip 3: Prevent thigh cramps with contrast showers

Regular contrast showers can also help prevent cramps. They stimulate blood circulation and promote metabolism.

To do this, first shower your legs with a pleasantly warm shower and then switch to cold water. Start taking a cold shower off your legs one at a time, working from the bottom up. Then cycle back to hot and back to cold.

Tip 4: Prevent thigh cramps with medication

In particularly bad cases, cramps in the thighs can also be temporarily prevented with medication. For this purpose, for example, quinine sulfate or hydroquinine are used.

However, such drugs have strong side effects and should always be prescribed by a doctor and only used under strict medical supervision. (4)


  1. Neurogenic muscle cramps. Released in 2015. Source
  2. Muscle cramps. Released in 2005. Source
  3. Origin and development of muscle cramps. Released in 2013. Source
  4. Guidelines for diagnostics and therapy in neurology Crampi/muscle cramps, published by the guidelines commission of the German Society for Neurology, 2016 Source
  5. Source
  6. Differential diagnosis and treatment of cramps, 2013 Source
  7. Muscle Cramping During a 161-km Ultramarathon: Comparison of Characteristics of Those With and Without Cramping. Released in 2015. Source
  8. Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps. Causes, Treatment, and Prevention, 2010 Source
  9. Deximed - German Expert Information Medicine: Convulsions in Adults Source
  10. Deximed - German expert information medicine: Nocturnal leg cramps, 2017 Source
  11. Sleep-Related Leg Cramps: A Review and Suggestions for Future Research, 2015 Source
  12. Non-drug therapies for lower limb muscle cramps. Source published in 2012
  13. Oral taurine supplementation versus placebo reduces muscle cramps in patients with chronic liver disease, 2018 Source
  14. Nocturnal leg cramps: Prevalence and associations with demographics, sleep disturbance symptoms, medical conditions, and cardiometabolic risk factors, 2017 Source
  15. Leg cramps in children, 1997 Source
  16. Nocturnal leg cramps in children: incidence and clinical characteristics, 1999 Source
  17. Oral magnesium for relief in pregnancy-induced leg cramps: a randomized controlled trial, 2015 Source
  18. Oral magnesium supplementation for leg cramps in pregnancy-An observational controlled trial, 20 Source
  19. Reflex inhibition of electrically induced muscle cramps in hypohydrated humans. Released in 2010. Source
  20. Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps. Causes, Treatment, and Prevention, 2010 Source
  21. Muscle cramping in athletes--risk factors, clinical assessment, and management, 2008 Source
  22. Muscle cramp-Treatment Source
  23. Reflex inhibition of electrically induced muscle cramps in hypohydrated humans. Released in 2010. Source
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