How-To Treat Painful Leg Spasms With Muscle Relaxants

//How-To Treat Painful Leg Spasms With Muscle Relaxants

How-To Treat Painful Leg Spasms With Muscle Relaxants

Almost everyone will experience a painful leg spasm at some point. These leg spasms, sometimes called “Charley horses,” are a painful contraction that can last from a few seconds to several minutes. Residual pain can linger for days. Leg spasms most often occur during intense activity, such as running, or when a person is just dozing off or waking up. The muscles of the hands, arms, abdomen, or along the rib cage are all prone to spasms, but most muscle spasms occur in the foot, calf, or thigh muscles. Sometimes, especially after an injury of some sort, these painful leg spasms can become chronic.

Causes of leg spasms

No single cause has been identified for muscular leg spasm, but there are several potential causes, such as:

  • Overexertion/muscle fatigue
  • Insufficient stretching before activity
  • Poor circulation
  • Dehydration, which can cause magnesium, potassium, or sodium deficiency
  • Calcium deficiency during pregnancy
  • Nerve malfunction, possibly caused by a pinched nerve or injury

The occasional muscle spasm isn’t cause for great alarm. A multivitamin, increased fluid intake, and proper warm-ups before exercise can often prevent more spasms. Avoiding overexertion from too much exercise can also prevent spasms.

How to stop leg spasms

Although most leg spasms aren’t serious, some might call for medical intervention.

Sometimes, muscle spasms can have deeper causes that make them more difficult to treat. Injuries to the head or spinal cord can sometimes lead to frequent muscle spasms. Additionally, some medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis, can be accompanied by regular spasms. When muscle spasms occur frequently despite efforts to prevent them, or begin to interfere with daily life, it might be time to speak to a pain doctor.

A pain doctor may be able to recommend some dietary changes you can make to reduce leg spasm or exercises you can do to reduce their severity or frequency. Or, they may be able to suggest medications, like muscle relaxants or even Botox, to help you find relief.

Muscle relaxants for leg spasms

Because a muscle spasm in the leg is a painfully strong contraction of the muscle, it makes sense that a muscle relaxant might help by relaxing the muscle. However, the name muscle relaxant is somewhat misleading, because this group of drugs doesn’t act directly on muscles. Instead, most muscle relaxants act on the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. Muscle relaxants can almost be thought of as entire-body relaxants. Indeed, the most common side effect of muscle relaxants is drowsiness or sedation.

According to some sources, stress might actually contribute to or worsen muscle spasms. If this is the case, the sedative-like qualities of muscle relaxants may also contribute to their effectiveness. As stated on the HealthLine website:

“The sedative effect that most muscle relaxants cause may also be important. Many experts think that much of the benefit of these drugs may come from the sedation they induce in people.”

However they work, muscle relaxants can provide relief from painful leg spasms.

Types of muscle relaxants for leg spasm

There are two types of muscle relaxants that can relieve leg pain from spasms.

The first type of muscle relaxant is classified as an antispastic. These medications decrease spasticity, that is, increased muscular tone and exaggerated tendon reflexes. Chronic spasticity is often an effect of neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis or a spinal cord injury. As a result, antispastic muscle relaxants are generally prescribed for individuals whose muscle spasms are neurologically caused. Baclofen and dantrolene are both antispastic medications. Some research suggests that antispastic muscle relaxants’ effectiveness may be limited as compared to antispasmodic muscle relaxants.

Antispasmodic muscle relaxants, on the other hand, work by reducing the number of spasms experienced, which in turn reduces the pain caused by spasms. Although it’s not clear exactly how antispasmodic muscle relaxants work, they have been proven successful at treating chronic pain from frequent muscle spasms. Antispasmodic muscle relaxants are best for spasms caused by musculoskeletal issues. Non-benzodiazepines and benzodiazepines are both classified as antispasmodic muscle relaxants.

Side effects of muscle relaxants

The most common side effect of both antispastic and antispasmodic muscle relaxants is drowsiness.

Because of this, physicians might not prescribe muscle relaxants to people with jobs that require the use of potentially dangerous equipment, like pilots or construction workers. If you’re taking a muscle relaxant for the first time, do so at home. This way you can see if the muscle relaxant will cause a serious sedative effect.

In some cases, individuals with a leg pain condition that could benefit from traditional oral pain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), might have another condition that makes the use of NSAIDs impossible or unwise. For example, NSAIDs can cause bleeding or damage to the liver in some cases. Someone with liver disease or a history of ulcers should avoid NSAIDs. For these individuals, muscle relaxants can provide a viable alternative.

Botox injections for leg spasms

Another surprising treatment option for muscle spasms is Botox injections.

Clostridium botulinum bacteria produce enzymes called botulinum neurotoxins. The word Botox is a shortened version of this enzyme: Bo from botulinum and tox from neurotoxins. Botox enzymes attach to nerve endings, preventing the release of chemical transmitters that tell a muscle to move. This causes temporary paralysis of the injected muscle, which prevents muscle spasms. Temporary paralysis may disrupt neurotransmitters that send pain messages. Therefore, not only can Botox prevent further painful muscle spasms, it can also potentially relieve pain from previous leg spasms.

It usually takes two to four weeks for a Botox injection to take full effect. Research on the use of Botox to treat painful leg spasms is somewhat limited. However, findings have indicated that it can, indeed, relieve pain. Botox’s effects aren’t permanent. You can get injections every three months. Because it treats the symptoms rather than the cause of pain, many physicians also recommend some form of physical therapy along with Botox injections.

Another related option is trigger point injections for musculature pain.

Do you suffer from frequent and painful leg spasms that could benefit from muscle relaxants? To find a pain doctor in your area who can help diagnose your condition and provide treatment options, click the button below. 

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By | 2018-01-18T12:25:06-07:00 August 14th, 2017|Tags: , , , |24 Comments

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Pain Doctor
Pain Doctor was created with one mission in mind: help and educate people about their pain conditions, treatment options and find a doctor who can help end their pain issues.


  1. Avatar
    Sandy Brady June 3, 2016 at 4:54 am

    At Night is when I get the pain from muscle spasms in my feet and legs I need to jump out of bed and try to stand on my feet to get rid of a cramp is there anything I can do to get rid of this potassium and magnesium don’t help and I was wondering what kind of medication I can take to stop these leg cramps at night

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor June 7, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      Hi Sandy — Thanks for stopping by the blog! We definitely recommend asking your pain doctor for help with leg cramps at night.

  2. Avatar
    Brad Miner June 17, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    I have been consulting with my neurologist on paralyzing leg cramps . . . calf muscles and inner thigh muscles are the most prone to the most severe cramps. I was all ready for a nice strong gin and tonic, having read that quinine sometimes provides instant relief. But that might have made the situation measurably worse. Since March 2009 I have had to deal with myasthenia gravis and that means a long list of medications and other substances that are contraindicated for someone with this disease. Still trying to find a homeopathic remedy. My doctor prescribed Lyrica, but at $300 a month for one 50 mg. capsule daily is well beyond the financial limitations of someone on Medicare and Social Security. If anyone has any bright ideas, I’m listening, and will check back here periodically. Thanks ~

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor June 19, 2016 at 11:20 am

      Hi Brad — thank you for sharing your story here. We can’t provide medical advice, but recommend you talk to a dedicated pain specialist for help, if you’re not already doing so. We also have a chronic pain support group, where you may be able to find suggestions from people who are also struggling with the same condition: Hope that helps!

    • Avatar
      Michael November 11, 2016 at 9:55 pm

      Hi Brad
      I would try to change to a different plan D on Medicare whose formulary would pay for the pills. Just a thought

      • Pain Doctor
        Pain Doctor December 19, 2016 at 2:14 pm

        Thanks for your suggestions!

  3. Avatar
    Joey December 12, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    Also, some drug manufacturers have co-pay assistance if it’s a name brand.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor December 19, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      Thanks for your suggestions!

  4. Avatar
    Keli Hazel May 6, 2017 at 2:31 am

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor May 7, 2017 at 11:52 am

      Of course Keli! Thanks for coming by the blog.

  5. Avatar
    Neeraj Singh May 26, 2017 at 3:05 am

    Really helpful blog post for leg spams suffering patients thanks.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor May 29, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      Thanks for your comment!

  6. Avatar
    Michael June 16, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Football players drink 48 ounces of pickle juice… That is all.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor June 17, 2017 at 8:04 pm


  7. Avatar
    Ashley August 5, 2017 at 9:12 am

    I had a miceodiscectomy and 3 years later the spasms and charlie horses have me up 4 to five times a night. All my blood work came back normal and baclofan is not helping. I need another micodiscectomy with neurolysis but my insurance keeps. keeps denying it. Any suggestions to relieve this?

  8. Avatar
    m biddle November 27, 2017 at 1:27 am

    Hi I’m up most nights with chronick pain in the calf and front of my leg I’ve tried Quine tablets at night outing ice on my leg helps but I carnt stay up all night with ice on it this dose help

  9. Avatar
    m biddle November 27, 2017 at 2:03 am

    I’ve also had knee replacement 6 weeks a go could it be a blood clot as I had one in my left leg after surgery I’ve had this pain cronick in my right leg sould I go to ae

  10. Avatar
    Melissa September 8, 2018 at 10:52 am

    Dear Pain “Doctor”…If you cannot offer medical advice or answer specific medical questions on this blog, then you are wasting the time of people who are coming to this blog for your help. Advising us to visit our healthcare professional or pain management doctor is a patronizing response when, in most cases, we have already done so with no relief of symptoms. So, thanks for nothing.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor September 10, 2018 at 11:59 am

      Hi Melissa — We understand how challenging and life-changing chronic pain can be. Working with multiple doctors just to get a diagnosis only adds more frustration. However, on our website alone, it would be unethical and irresponsible for us to attempt a diagnosis or give treatment advice to patients commenting with questions. Without knowing their previous history, symptoms, and other factors, any diagnosis or treatment suggestions we could give may be misguided and potentially dangerous for some. We can point to other general discussions about their issues, but can’t provide any help beyond this.

  11. Avatar
    S. Moniz October 23, 2018 at 3:04 am

    15 yrs ago I was prescribed Soma for sciatica it worked. In 2015 I had an abdominal aortic aneurysm and underwent 14 hrs emergency surgery. I was cut from pubis to sternum and groin to knee both legs. I was stapled. Since then I get rolling muscle spasms in my abdomen and inner thigh. I literally jump out of bed the pain is so intense lasting 20-30 minutes I can’t walk. Massaging, slapping, punching has no effect. Well that doctor retired 2015, the next doctor I was referred to moved to Florida 2016 his files were passed to my current doctor who cut my somas 50% without reviewing my file. In the 2yrs. I’ve been with him I’ve been flagged by walgreens for trying to refill early-I saw my dr. every month and got a new rx as he did not give refills. Then last month I went for my monthly visit and he made me sign a paper promising I would not get pain pills from other doctors and then I had to do a UA. I don’t do pain pills just somas. In the almost 2yrs I’ve been with him-my diabetes uncontrolled, heart (trip bypass) and kidney (acute necrosis from AAA) function dropped and I’m a doctor shopper, soma seeking addict.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor October 29, 2018 at 12:46 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story here.

  12. Avatar
    Emily Limoges June 5, 2019 at 5:07 am

    Apart from removing fine lines and wrinkles, botox is used for pain recovery also. Thank you for sharing information on this.

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