Muscle Cramps - Causes, Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

Muscle Cramps: Does it Frequently Visit You?

Authored by DesiMD Doctor on 28 May 2015 - 12:53.


A sudden and involuntary contraction of a muscle is called muscle cramp. It can occur to one or more muscles at a time and can bring excruciating pain in the affected muscle. Though it is harmless, a muscle cramp makes it impossible to use the affected muscle temporarily, until the muscle gets relaxed.

Physical exercise or physical labour for long durations, especially in hot weather can lead to muscle cramping. Muscle cramps can also be caused by certain medications or medical conditions. Usually muscle cramps can be treated by following self care measures at home.




Dehydration, overuse of a muscle, muscle strain can result in a muscle cramp. However the exact cause in not known. Some of the medical conditions which can lead to muscle cramps are as follows:

Inadequate blood supply: When the blood vessels supplying blood to the legs are narrowed due to arteriosclerosis, cramps can occur in the legs and feet when the patient exercises. The cramps usually go away on stopping the exercise.

Nerve compression: When the nerves of the spine are compressed (lumbar stenosis), cramps are also produced in the legs. The pain of cramps worsens with the duration of walking. Walking in a slightly bent position, such as when pushing a shopping cart, may improve or worsen the pain.

Mineral depletion: Depletion of minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium in the body can cause cramps of the leg muscles. Depletion of these minerals can be caused due to insufficient diet intake or due to diuretic medications.



Most of the muscle cramps experienced by people are of the calf muscle. The symptoms of muscle cramps include sudden and sharp pain in the affected muscle and hard lump of muscle tissue can be seen or felt under the skin.

When to see a doctor:

Normally muscle cramps relax on their own and are not serious enough to need medical attention. A doctor should be consulted if the cramps:

  • Cause severe discomfort
  • Occur frequently
  • Are associated with muscle weakness
  • Are associated with redness, swelling and skin changes
  • Don’t relax with self care
  • Occur just like that without any cause such as during exercise



Factors which increase the risk of muscle cramps include:

  • Age: With increase in age, there is muscle loss which leads to overstressing of the remaining muscles which leads to muscle         cramps.
  • Dehydration: Dehydration caused due to exercising in hot weather causes the muscles to develop cramps.
  • Pregnancy: Cramps of muscles are more common during pregnancy.
  • Medical conditions: the risk of muscle cramps is higher in patients with diabetes or disorders of nerve, thyroid or liver.

Usually muscle cramps can be treated with self care measures. The physician may show some stretching exercises which are helpful in reducing the chances of getting muscle cramps. Staying hydrated also helps in reducing the cramp occurrence rate. Medications may be prescribed by the doctor to relax the muscles if recurrent cramps occur.

The following actions may provide relief if a person is having a cramp:

  • Stretching and massaging: Stretch the muscle which is cramped and rub on it to help it relax. When a calf muscle cramp occurs, the person should put his/her weight on the cramped leg and bend the knee slightly till the muscle relaxes. If the person is not able to stand, he/she must sit down on the chair or floor and extend the leg and try pulling the foot towards one’s head. This procedure also helps in relaxing the muscles of back thigh. For front thigh muscle cramps, the person should put the affected leg knee on a chair and try pulling the foot towards his/her buttock.
  • Application of heat or cold: Using a heating pad or warm towel on the affected muscles help in relaxation of the muscle. Warm bath or a stream of hot shower on the muscle also helps. Massaging the cramped muscle with ice also helps to relieve the pain.
  • Painkillers: If the pain in the leg due to muscle cramp does not reduce on its own, over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol may help to reduce pain.




The following steps may help in preventing cramps:

Avoid dehydration: Plenty of fluids should be taken every day. Fluids help the muscles to contract and relax properly and make them less irritable. While performing exercise, fluids should be taken at regular intervals and should also be taken after completion of the exercise. The exact amount of fluid which needs to be replenished in the body depends on the diet, level of activity, health of the person, weather, age and medications if taken any.

Stretch the muscles: Stretch the muscles to be used for extended period before and after using them. If a person experiences muscle cramps at night, he/she must stretch before sleeping. Light exercise such as riding a stationary cycle for a few minutes before sleeping can be helpful in preventing cramps during sleep.




*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.