February 06, 2014


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


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