A muscle cramp is a sudden, involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles. If you’ve ever been woken up in the night or stopped in your tracks by a sharp pain, you know that muscle cramps can cause severe pain. Although usually harmless, muscle cramps can make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle.
Long periods of exercise or physical labor, especially in hot weather, can lead to muscle cramps. Certain medications and medical conditions can also cause muscle cramps. You can usually treat muscle cramps at home through self-care measures.
- 1 Symptoms of cramps
- 2 When to consult a doctor
- 3 Causes of cramps
- 4 Risk factors for the onset of cramps
- 5 Prevention of cramps
- 6 Lifestyle and home remedies to overcome cramps
Symptoms of cramps
Most muscle cramps develop in the leg muscles, especially the calf. Besides the sudden, sharp pain, you may also feel or see a mass of muscle tissue under your skin.
When to consult a doctor
Muscle cramps usually go away on their own and are rarely severe enough to require medical attention. However, if you have cramps, consult your doctor:
– cause significant discomfort
– are associated with swelling, redness or changes in the skin of the legs
– are associated with muscle weakness
– Occur frequently
– Do not improve with self-care
– are not associated with an obvious cause, such as intense physical exercise
Causes of cramps
Overuse of a muscle, dehydration, muscle tension, or simply holding a position for an extended period of time can cause a muscle cramp. In many cases, however, the cause is not known.
Although most muscle cramps are harmless, some may be linked to an underlying medical condition, such as:
– Insufficient blood supply
Narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the legs (arteriosclerosis of the extremities) can cause cramp-like pain in the legs and feet during exercise. These cramps usually go away soon after you stop exercising.
– Nerve compression
Compression of the nerves in your spine (lumbar spinal stenosis) can also cause leg cramp-like pain. The pain usually gets worse the more you walk. Walking in a slightly bent position, like you would pushing a shopping cart in front of you, can improve or delay the onset of your symptoms.
– Mineral depletion
A diet that is too low in potassium, calcium or magnesium can contribute to the onset of leg cramps. Diuretics, drugs often prescribed for high blood pressure, can also deplete these minerals.
Risk factors for the onset of cramps
Some factors that may increase your risk of muscle cramps include:
Older people lose muscle mass, so the remaining muscle can be more easily overloaded.
– The dehydration
Athletes who become fatigued and dehydrated while playing sports in hot weather frequently develop muscle cramps.
– The pregnancy
Muscle cramps are also common during pregnancy.
You may be more prone to muscle cramps if you have diabetes or have nerve, liver or thyroid disorders.
Prevention of cramps
These measures can help prevent cramps:
– Avoid dehydration
Drink plenty of fluids every day. The amount depends on what you eat, your gender, activity level, weather, health, age, and medications you take. Fluids help your muscles contract and relax and keep muscle cells hydrated and less irritable. During the activity, renew the liquids at regular intervals and continue to drink water or other liquids after finishing.
– Stretch your muscles
Stretch before and after using a muscle for an extended period of time. If you tend to get leg cramps at night, stretch before bed. Light exercise, such as riding a stationary bike for a few minutes before bed, can also help prevent cramps while you sleep.
You can usually treat muscle cramps through self-care measures. Your doctor can show you stretching exercises that can help reduce your risk of muscle cramps. It can also help you stay well hydrated.
Lifestyle and home remedies to overcome cramps
If you have a cramp, these actions can provide relief:
– Stretching and massage
Stretch the cramping muscle and rub gently to help it relax.
Try to pull the top of your foot on the affected side toward your head while keeping your leg straight. It will also help relieve a cramp in the back of the thigh (hamstring).
For a cramp in the front of the thigh (quadriceps), use a chair to stabilize yourself and try to pull the foot on the affected side towards the buttocks.
– Apply heat or cold
Use a hot towel or heating pad on tight or tight muscles. Taking a hot bath or directing a jet of hot shower on the cramped muscle can also help. You can also massage the muscle with ice to relieve pain.
Some suggest taking vitamin B complex and magnesium supplements to help manage leg cramps.