Cramps are neural sensations caused by muscle contraction or overshortening. Common causes of skeletal muscle cramps may include muscle fatigue, low sodium, low potassium, and/or low magnesium. Smooth muscle cramps may be due to menstruation or gastroenteritis.
What causes muscle cramps?
The cause of muscle cramps isn't always known. Muscle cramps may be brought on by many conditions or activities, such as:
Exercising, injury, or overuse of muscles
Pregnancy. Cramps may occur because of decreased amounts of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, especially in the later months of pregnancy
Exposure to cold temperatures, especially to cold water
Other medical conditions, such as blood flow problems (peripheral arterial disease), kidney disease, thyroid disease, and multiple sclerosis
Standing on a hard surface for a long time, sitting for a long time, or putting your legs in awkward positions while you sleep
Not having enough potassium, calcium, and other minerals in your blood
Being dehydrated, this means that your body has lost too much fluid
Taking certain medicines, such as antipsychotics, birth control pills, diuretics, statins, and steroids
How can you stop a muscle cramp when it happens?
You may need to try several different ways to stop a muscle cramp before you find what works best for you. Here are some things you can try:
Stretch and massage the muscle
Take a warm shower or bath to relax the muscle. A heating pad placed on the muscle can also help
Try using an ice or cold pack. Always keep a cloth between your skin and the ice pack
Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label
If your doctor prescribes medicines for muscle cramps, take them exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you have any problems with your medicine
Drink plenty of fluids. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade, will often help leg cramps
How can you prevent muscle cramps?
These tips may help prevent muscle cramps:
Drink plenty of water and other fluids, enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water
Limit or avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine. These can make you dehydrated, which means your body has lost too much fluid
Make sure you are eating healthy foods (especially if you are pregnant) that are rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium
Stretch your muscles every day, especially before and after exercise and at bedtime
Take a daily multivitamin supplement
If you are taking medicines that are known to cause leg cramps, your doctor may prescribe different medicines