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Non-drug therapies for lower limb muscle cramps

Blyton F, Chuter V, Walter KEL, Burns J
Published Online: 
18 January 2012

Lower limb muscle cramps are a common problem that can affect any person, but cramps mostly occur during exercise, at nighttime in older people, in pregnant women, in people with a neurological disease and during kidney dialysis. Non-drug treatments are described as being effective for the treatment of muscle cramps. Non-drug treatments include muscle stretching, physical exercise, avoidance of physical fatigue, massage, relaxation, heat therapy, weight loss, sensory nerve stimulation, ankle splints worn while sleeping, and changes to sleeping and sitting positions. We did not include invasive interventions such as surgery, acupuncture or dry-needling in this review.

Only one randomised trial has assessed the effectiveness of a non-drug treatment for lower limb muscle cramp. This trial evaluated day-time calf muscle stretching to prevent nighttime muscle cramp in adults age 60 years and over who had received a repeat prescription of quinine for nighttime cramps in the preceding three months. Forty-nine participants were advised to complete lean-to-wall calf muscle stretching held for 10 s three times per day. Forty-eight participants were allocated to a placebo stretching group. After 12 weeks, there was no statistically significant difference in the frequency of cramps, as recalled by the participants, between groups. No "significant" adverse effect was reported. Owing to serious limitations in the design of the trial, it is impossible to determine from the available evidence whether or not calf muscle stretching can prevent recurrent lower limb muscle cramp.

Further research is required to determine the effectiveness of non-drug treatments for lower limb muscle cramp.