A muscle cramp is a sudden and involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles. If you've ever been awakened in the night or stopped in your tracks by a sudden charley horse, you know that muscle cramps can cause excruciating pain. Though generally harmless, muscle cramps can make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle.
Long periods of exercise or physical labor, particularly in hot weather, may lead to muscle cramps. Some medications and certain medical conditions also may cause muscle cramps. You can usually treat muscle cramps at home with self-care measures.
Most muscle cramps develop in the leg muscles, particularly the muscles in the calf. In addition to the sudden, sharp pain, you may also be able to feel or see a hard lump of muscle tissue beneath your skin.
When to see a doctor
Overuse of a muscle, dehydration, muscle strain or simply holding a position for a prolonged period of time may result in a muscle cramp. In many cases, however, the exact cause of a muscle cramp isn't known.
Although most muscle cramps are harmless, some may be related to an underlying medical condition, such as:
Factors that may increase your risk of muscle cramps include:
Preparing for your appointment
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have muscle cramps that are severe, frequent and not getting better with self-care. When you see your doctor, bring a list of your key medical information, including any allergies or medical conditions, and the names of all the medications, vitamins and supplements you're taking.
Your doctor is likely to ask a number of questions to help determine if you should have any tests or see a specialist. To make the most of your appointment, consider in advance your answers to the following:
Treatments and drugs
You can usually treat muscle cramps with self-care measures. Your doctor can show you stretching exercises that can help you reduce your chances of getting muscle cramps. Making sure you stay well hydrated also can help. For recurrent cramps that disturb your sleep, your doctor might prescribe a medication to relax your muscles.
Taking vitamin B complex supplements is suggested by some to help manage leg cramps. However, more research is needed to confirm this benefit.
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you have a cramp, these actions may provide relief:
While holding on to a chair, keep one leg back with your knee straight and your heel flat on the floor. Slowly bend your elbows and front knee and move your hips forward until you feel a stretch in ...
These steps may help prevent cramps:
Last Updated: 2013-02-19
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