Muscle cramps

Definition

Muscle cramps are when a muscle gets tight (contracts) without you trying to tighten it, and it does not relax. Cramps may involve all or part of one or more muscles.

The most commonly involved muscle groups are:

Cramps in the feet, hands, arms, abdomen, and along the rib cage are also very common.

Muscle cramps are common and may be stopped by stretching the muscle. The cramping muscle may feel hard or bulging.

Considerations

Muscle cramps are different than muscle twitches, which are covered in a separate article.

Causes

Muscle cramps are common and often occur when a muscle is overused or injured. Working out when you have not had enough fluids (dehydration) or when you have low levels of minerals such as potassium or calcium can also make you more likely to have a muscle spasm.

Muscle cramps can occur while you play tennis or golf, bowl, swim, or do any other exercise.

They can also be triggered by:

Home Care

If you have a muscle cramp, stop your activity and try stretching and massaging the muscle.

Heat will relax the muscle when the spasm begins, but ice may be helpful when the pain has improved.

If the muscle is still sore, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines can help with pain. If the muscle cramps are severe, your health care provider can prescribe other medicines.

The most common cause of muscle cramps during sports activity is not getting enough fluids. Often, drinking water will ease the cramping. However, water alone does not always help. Salt tablets or sports drinks, which also replenish lost minerals, can be helpful.

Other tips for relieving muscle cramps:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if your muscle cramps:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will examine you and ask questions about your symptoms and medical history, such as:

Blood tests may be done to check for the following:

Pain medicines may be prescribed.


Review Date: 7/13/2016
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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