Muscle Cramps

What are Muscle Cramps?

Muscles normally contract and relax numerous times throughout the day as we move around. When a muscle or group of muscles forcibly and involuntarily contracts, it is called a spasm. If the spasm lasts for a period of time without returning to its relaxed state, it then becomes a cramp. Cramps are thought to be caused by over stimulated muscle nerves, which could be the result of any number of factors – injury, vitamin deficiency, dehydration, too much rest, medications, etc.

Muscle cramps are very common, as almost everyone will experience them at some point in their life. They become more frequent as a person ages, but children also encounter them.  Cramps may last only a few seconds, or they can hold out for several minutes. It is not unusual for a cramp to happen several times before going away completely. Any muscles that we voluntarily control are susceptible to cramping, although they are generally most common in the legs.

What are the Symptoms of Muscle Cramps?

The most common symptoms of a muscle cramp are a sharp pain and a visible hardening of the effected muscle tissue. They are not often serious and are more of a nuisance than anything. However, some situations may require a visit to the doctor.

Seek medication attention

  • Occur frequently
  • Create severe discomfort
  • Do not go away with self-care
  • Are associated with swelling, muscle weakness, skin changes, or redness
  • No obvious cause

How are Muscle Cramps Treated?

Most muscle cramps will resolve on their own without medical treatment. Stretching exercises help the muscle to relax and get rid of the cramp more quickly, as do various massages. Heating pads are effective in relieving the pain, while increased fluid and electrolyte intake are helpful when cramps are caused by fluid loss. Medication is rarely needed, though some may find Botox injections and muscle relaxants helpful when they become a problem.

Persistent muscle cramping may require blood tests and neurological evaluations to identify the source.

Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
August 31, 2017