Diabetes-Related Leg Cramps: How to Prevent and Treat

Written by Julia Telfer, MPH


Perhaps you’ve been there—in the middle of a perfectly restful night of sleep you are abruptly woken up by an intense pain from a cramping muscle, typically in your foot or calf. 

Although the exact cause of muscle cramps is still up for debate, they are frequently linked to poor flexibility and muscle fatigue. A smaller body of research also suggests that diabetes can increase your risk of experiencing leg cramps, potentially due to swings in blood sugar levels, certain medications, and long-term complications such as diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage).1,2 With or without diabetes, these cramps are characterized by the sudden, involuntary, and painful tightening (contraction) of a muscle. They occur most frequently in the evenings in the following muscle groups:

What causes these painful cramps and how can I prevent them?

“Although the exact cause of muscle cramps remains unknown, they are not inevitable,” says Amy Hess-Fischl, MS, RD, LDN, BC-ADM, CDE. While cramps may seemingly come on without warning, knowing the factors and situations that can cause muscle cramps can help you understand them, prevent them, and treat them. Here, some reasons for cramps and what you can do to avoid them:


How can I stop the pain?

OnTrack Diabetes editorial board advisor Amy Hess-Fischl, MS, RD, LDN, BC-ADM, CDE has two techniques you can try:

Home remedies abound all over the internet and include everything from taking a swig of dill pickle juice, placing a bare, cramping foot on a cold floor and even, pinching the skin under your nose very tightly! None of these techniques are based in science but you can certainly try them at your own risk. 

How serious are muscle cramps?

In many cases, muscle cramps are infrequent and relatively harmless, but it’s important to recognize that other complications and conditions can be confused with muscle cramps.

If you continue to experience frequent muscle cramps or pain, talk to your doctor. Either you’ll have peace of mind that it’s nothing serious, or you’ll be one step closer to figuring out what’s happening with your body and how to best address it.

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