- Caring for the Patient With Cancer at Home: A Guide for Patients and Families
- Anxiety and fear
- Appetite, poor
- Blood counts
- Blood in stool
- Blood in urine
- Fluids and dehydration
- Grooming and appearance
- Hair loss
- Leg cramps
- Mouth, bleeding in
- Mouth dryness
- Mouth sores
- Nausea and vomiting
- Scars and wounds
- Shortness of breath
- Skin color changes
- Skin dryness
- Skin (pressure) sores
- Sleep problems
- Steroids and hormones
- Stomas (or ostomies)
- Swallowing problems
- Treatment at home
- Tubes and IV lines
- Weight changes
- When death is approaching
- To learn more
Leg cramps or spasms are a painful tightening of the muscles in the leg. Staying in bed for long periods of time sometimes can cause muscles in the leg or foot to cramp. Dehydration, certain drugs, and brain or nerve diseases can also cause cramps. Other causes of cramping are pressure on the calf muscles or on the back of the knee, too much phosphorus, too little calcium, low blood sugar, or too little potassium in the body. All of these are chemistry imbalances in the blood.
What to look for
- Sudden pain or discomfort in a leg or foot and a tight or stiff feeling
- Trouble moving the foot or pain when moving the foot or leg
What the patient can do
- Change position often.
- If you are bed-bound, use a bed cradle to protect the legs and feet from the weight of the bed clothes. A bed cradle is a support at the end of the bed that holds the sheets and blanket up off the legs and feet.
- Exercise your legs in bed by bending and straightening them 10 times twice a day or as many times as you can. A family member can move your legs for you if you can't.
- Tell your doctor or nurse about the cramps. They may be able to help prevent them. For example, they may prescribe a muscle relaxant.
- Apply heat to legs when they cramp if it's allowed by your doctor. Talk to your doctor or nurse about what kind of heat to use and how long you should use it.
- Massage the leg if allowed by your doctor.
- Keep warm.
- Contract the opposite muscle group to stretch the tight muscle as much as you can without hurting it. For example, for a calf muscle cramp, try pointing the toes upward toward the knees, or walk around.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions for correcting imbalances in calcium, potassium, or phosphorus.
What caregivers can do
- Help the patient stretch the tight muscle if they can't.
- Use ice or a cold washcloth to gently rub the cramped muscle.
- If muscle relaxers are prescribed, watch for dizziness or stumbling.
Call the doctor if the patient:
- Has cramping that is not relieved by heat, massage, or by stretching the cramped muscle (as described above)
- Has cramping that lasts for more than 6 to 8 hours
- Has a cramped leg that becomes red, swollen, or hot
Last Medical Review: 03/24/2011
Last Revised: 08/11/2011