What causes calf cramps?

Updated March 23, 2017

Calf cramps are among the most painful types of cramps. They can come on suddenly and without warning. Considered a skeletal muscle that can be voluntarily controlled, the calf is among the most common muscles to cramp. A cramp is described as a sudden and involuntary contraction affecting one or more muscles. There are many different causes of calf cramps, but the good news is there are steps you can take to help prevent them from occurring, as well as recommended treatments if a cramp does occur.

Symptoms and Causes

The symptoms of calf cramps are sudden pain, tension and the inability to put full pressure on your leg. You also may notice that the muscle becomes hardened and feels like a ball. There are several causes of calf cramps. Among them are exposure to significant temperature change, dehydration, low blood salt, low blood calcium and low potassium. Certain diseases such as kidney and thyroid disease can bring on cramping as well.

Nocturnal Cramps

Involuntary muscle cramps that occur at night are referred to as nocturnal cramps. These occur most commonly in the calves and soles of the feet. These types of cramps are normal in the late stage of pregnancy.


Sometimes the best thing you can do for a cramp is to stretch. For a calf cramp, stand up, and while bending from the waist, touch your toes. This will lengthen the leg muscles and help relieve the cramp. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water, apply heat or cold to the area, and gently massage the cramp.

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop a calf cramp; however, infants, the elderly, overweight people and athletes are at the greatest risk.


There are steps you can take to help prevent calf cramps. Drink plenty of water, eat potassium rich foods such as bananas, and stretch properly. Warming up before working out or participating in sporting events also is important. Calf cramps are seldom serious, although if you experience frequent muscle cramps, see a doctor.

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About the Author

Nicole Long is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. With experience in management and customer service, business is a primary focus of her writing. Long also has education and experience in the fields of sports medicine, first aid and coaching. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from the University of Cincinnati.