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Muscle Cramp


Disease: Muscle Cramp Muscle Cramp
Category: Bones, joints, muscles diseases
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Disease Definition:

The sudden and involuntary contraction of one or more of the muscles is known as a muscle cramp. Intense pain can be caused by muscle cramps and one becomes temporarily unable to use the affected muscles.

Overuse of muscles and dehydration during physical activity in warm weather are common causes of muscle cramps. Muscle cramps may be caused by some medications and certain medical conditions as well.

Usually, muscle cramps can be treated at home with self-care measures.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


The following are included in the signs and symptoms of a muscle cramp:


  • A hard lump of muscle tissue that one can feel or is visible beneath the skin
  • Sudden and sharp muscle pain (spasm, contraction), often in the legs

Muscle cramps are rarely serious enough to require medical care, and they usually disappear on their own. However, one should see the doctor if the cramps disturb his/her sleep or he/she experiences frequent and severe muscle cramps.


Muscle cramp may be caused by muscle strain, dehydration, overuse of a muscle or simply holding a position for a prolonged period of time. Muscle cramps are frequent occurrences in athletes who become fatigued and dehydrated while participating in warm-weather sports. However, the exact cause of a muscle cramp is not recognized in many cases.

During sleep, the muscle cramp that may occur in the calf muscles or toes is a common type of these cramps called nocturnal cramps. After spending long hours using a garden tool or gripping a paintbrush, one can develop muscle cramps in the arm or hand. Using the same muscle for long periods results in writer's cramp that affects the thumb and first two fingers of the writing hand.

The following can cause muscle cramps in the legs as well:

Mineral Depletion:
Leg cramps can be caused by too little magnesium, potassium or calcium in one's diet. Loss of potassium can be caused by some diuretic medications prescribed for high blood pressure.

Nerve Compression:
Cramp-like pain in the leg can be caused by compression of nerves in the spine (lumbar stenosis). The longer one walks, the pain usually worsens. The symptoms may improve by walking in a slightly flexed position such as one would employ when pushing a shopping cart ahead of him/her.

Inadequate Blood Supply:
While one is exercising, cramp-like pain in the legs and feet may result from narrowing of the arteries that deliver blood to the legs (arteriosclerosis of the extremities). Soon after one stops exercising and stands still, these cramps go away.

Muscle cramps are part of certain conditions such as kidney, nerve, hormone or thyroid disorders, anemia, hypoglycemia and diabetes.





With self-care measures, one can usually treat muscle cramps. Making sure one stays well hydrated can help as well. A medication to relax the muscles may be prescribed for recurrent cramps that disturb one's sleep. In addition to this, the doctor can show the patient stretching exercises that can help in reducing the chances of getting muscle cramps.


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