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    Muscle cramps

    Cramps - muscle

    Muscle cramps arewhen a musclegets tight(contracts)without you trying to do so. The muscle gets tight and does not relax. Cramps may involve all or part of one or more muscles.

    The most commonly involved muscle groups are:

    • Back of the lower leg/calf
    • Back of the thigh (hamstrings)
    • Front of the thigh (quadriceps)

    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 spasms 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 haven't 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:

    • Alcoholism
    • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
    • Kidney failure
    • Medications
    • Menstruation
    • Pregnancy

    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 medications 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 doesn't always help. Salt tablets or sports drinks, which also replenish lost minerals, can be helpful.

    Other tips for relieving muscle cramps:

    • Change your workouts so that you are exercising within your ability.
    • Drink plenty of fluids while exercising and increase your potassium intake (orange juice and bananas are great sources of potassium).
    • Stretch to improve flexibility.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your doctor or nurseif your muscle cramps:

    • Are severe
    • Do not go away with simple stretching
    • Keep coming back
    • Last a long time

    What to Expect at Your Office Visit

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

    • When did the spasms first begin?
    • How long do they last?
    • How often do you experience muscle spasms?
    • What muscles are affected?
    • Is it always the same location?
    • Are you pregnant?
    • Have you been vomiting, had diarrhea, excessive sweating, excessive urine volume, or any other possible cause of dehydration?
    • What medications do you take?
    • Have you been exercising heavily?
    • Have you been drinking alcohol heavily?

    Blood tests may be done to check for the following:

    • Calcium, potassium, or magnesium metabolism
    • Kidney function
    • Thyroid function

    Pain medicines may be prescribed.

    References

    Wang LH,Pestronk A. Muscle pain and cramps In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley’s Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 26.

    Brinker MR, O'Connor DP, Almekinders LC, et al. Basic science and injury of muscle, tendon, and ligament. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr., Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2009:chap 1.

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    • Chest stretch

      illustration

    • Groin stretch

      illustration

    • Hamstring stretch

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    • Hip stretch

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    • Thigh stretch

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    • Triceps stretch

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      • Chest stretch

        illustration

      • Groin stretch

        illustration

      • Hamstring stretch

        illustration

      • Hip stretch

        illustration

      • Thigh stretch

        illustration

      • Triceps stretch

        illustration

      A Closer Look

        Self Care

          Tests for Muscle cramps

            Review Date: 8/14/2012

            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. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

            The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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