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If you've ever awakened in the middle of the night with extreme tension in a leg muscle, you know how painful leg cramps can be. These contractions, which occur involuntarily in the muscles of the calf, thigh or foot, are normally harmless, and you can do a lot to relieve them at home. The right stretching exercises, acupressure and other tried-and-tested home remedies can be very successful in getting rid of leg cramps.

Stretch the Muscle

Regular stretching can help reduce and relieve leg cramps. This is one of the easiest home remedies for leg cramps, because you can do it at any time, in any place. Try to do leg stretches at least once per day, twice if possible.

If you often get calf cramps, try a pair of stretches:

  1. Stand facing a wall with one foot in front of the other, bending your front knee slightly.
  2. Keeping your back knee straight and your heel on the ground, lean toward the wall. 
  3. Hold the stretch, which you should feel right along the calf of your back leg, for 20 to 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on the other leg; then stretch both legs twice more. 
  1. Stand facing a wall with one foot in front of the other, bending your front knee slightly.
  2. Bend your back knee, keeping your heel on the ground, and lean toward the wall. 
  3. Hold the stretch, which you should feel in the lower part of your calf muscle, for 20 to 30 seconds. 
  4. Repeat on the other leg; then stretch both legs two more times.

Make sure you perform all stretches slowly and carefully. Stretching too quickly may damage your muscles. If you're new to stretching, take your time. Hold the stretch for a short time and work up to longer stretches.

Read more: Gain Flexibility Fast With These 9 New Stretches

Work Pressure Points

Acupressure can provide relief as a home remedy for muscle cramps. One technique involves applying pressure to associated trigger points (antispasmotic points) as soon as the muscle starts to cramp, and maintaining pressure until it passes. One antispasmotic point is between the lip and the nose, two-thirds of the way up.

Hold your index finger or knuckle firmly against this point, breathing deeply. Another antispasmotic point is on the top of the foot, between the big toe and second toe. Hold your index and middle fingers firmly against this point, directing the pressure toward the bone of the second toe.

You can also apply pressure to the site of the cramp, pressing your thumbs gently into the center of the muscle for two to three minutes. Increase pressure gradually to counteract the cramp and help to relax the muscle. After the cramp subsides, carry on applying gentle pressure at the center of the muscle for a couple of minutes.

Read more: How to Loosen a Tight Calf Muscle

Apply Heat and Cold

Heat may relax your muscle when it starts to cramp, and cold may be helpful when the cramp has passed. Wrap an electric heating pad in a pillowcase and apply it to the cramped muscle for as long as necessary. Apply ice to the affected area to reduce pain and help relax the muscle.

Use an ice pack or wrap a washcloth or towel around a handful of ice cubes, then apply the ice directly to the cramping muscle for 20 minutes every two hours, keeping the leg rested and elevated. A towel rinsed in very cold water is a good alternative if you don't have ice.

Diet Tips for Calf Cramps

Other home remedies for muscle cramps include drinking plenty of water every day, and eating the right kinds of foods. Water helps to contract, relax and hydrate your muscles. While there are no official guidelines for how much water you should drink every day, most experts recommend drinking water regularly during exercise and aiming for around eight 8-ounce glasses per day.

When it comes to your diet, the nutrients potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium, known collectively as electrolytes, can help to reduce muscle cramps. Eat avocados, bananas and sweet potatoes for potassium; dark, leafy greens for calcium; oily fish for sodium; and beans, lentils and other legumes for magnesium.

Read more: 23 Healthy Salads Nutrition Experts Eat

About the Author

Claire Gillespie

Claire Gillespie, who has been writing and editing for 18 years, has written about health and wellness for private clients and various websites, including Women's Health, mindbodygreen, HealthCentral, Reader's Digest and SELF.