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Avoiding Leg Cramps When Walking

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 19 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Walking Hiking Leg Cramp Thigh Calf

Most of the time, hiking is as injury-free a pastime as anyone is likely to undertake. There might be a slight sprain from a fall, but that’s usually the most extreme sort of problem you’re going to encounter.

That said, there is one thing that can often happen to hikers – leg cramps. They’re painful, as anyone who has experienced one knows, and can leave you hobbling for a while, even after the cramp has passed. You can take steps to try and make sure they never happen, although there are no guarantees; sooner or later you might suffer.

What Causes Leg Cramps?

There are three main causes of leg cramps. They can be due to heavy fatigue - basically pushing yourself too hard - an imbalance of electrolytes or simply dehydration. The cramps can occur either in the front or back of the thigh, or in the muscles deep in the calf.

You’re more likely to suffer cramps if you’re unused to hiking and are on a long, gruelling walk. Work up to that gradually, and allow your muscles to become used to hiking. Regular exercise, saying walking for 30 minutes every other day, will strengthen your legs.

You should also make sure you have ample to drink when hiking. Walking can deplete your liquid levels and these need to be refilled. Have a full water bottle and drink from it regularly as you go. You can use sports drinks to keep up the electrolyte levels. You should also have food with you, perhaps a lunch or maybe snacks, and stop to eat when hungry.

Stopping Cramps

Making sure you’re properly hydrated and that you eat in order to prevent your blood sugar levels falling are both good ways to stop cramps attacking you. They’re not the only things you can do, however.

Before you set off, warm up as you might if you were going for a jog. Perform some stretching exercises to allow the muscles to heat up. You can also rub your legs, effectively giving them a massage, and that will have the same effect. When you’re out hiking, don’t sit in one place for too long. This allows the muscles to cool again and can cause cramps.

Wear good footgear. Proper hiking boots or shoes will give ample support to the arch and leg and cut down on the incidence of cramps.

If You Have a Cramp

At some point, no matter how you try to avoid it, you’ll probably suffer a cramp when hiking. When that happens, you need to know how to make it pass. If the cramp is at the front of your right thigh, you need to sit, then put your left ankle behind the right ankle. Pull back hard with the right ankle and try to stop that with the left ankle. This action contracts the quadriceps muscles in the thigh. For the left thigh, do the same in reverse.

For a cramp at the back of the right thigh, sit so that your right ankle is behind the left ankle. Try to push the right ankle forward and stop it with the left ankle. This will cause the hamstring to contract, relieving the cramp. Reverse the legs for cramp in the back of the left thigh.

With a cramp in the right calf, you need to sit and have the left foot over the instep of the right foot. Pull the right foot up towards yourself while pushing as hard as possible with the left foot. This should ease the pain. For a cramp in the left calf, simply do this as a mirror image.

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Good hydration is key. Make sure you keep drinking plenty of water as you walk and take frequent small breaks. This will help to prevent your muscles cramping. You can use sports drinks with extra electrolytes if you want, but in most cases plain water will be perfectly fine. The point about warming your leg muscles by stretching or rubbing is also a very good one, and something many hikers ignore. The older you are, the more important it is.
Carl - 14-Jun-12 @ 10:56 AM
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