Muscle Cramp

1 What is Muscle Cramp?

A muscle cramp, a sudden and spontaneous contraction of one or more of your muscles, can cause extreme pain and make the affected muscle temporarily impossible to use.

Muscle cramp may be associated with prolonged periods of exercise or physical labor, particularly in hot weather. Some medications and certain medical conditions are also known to cause muscle cramps.

Muscle cramps are generally treated at home with self-care measures.

2 Symptoms

Symptoms of muscle cramp include:

  • Sudden, sharp pain
  • Hard lump of muscle tissue may be seen or felt

Usually, muscle cramp develops in the calf muscle.

When to see a Doctor?

Muscle cramps are harmless in most of the cases and seldom require medical attention. Visit your doctor if your cramps:

  • Cause severe discomfort
  • Occur regularly
  • Are associated with leg swelling, muscle weakness, redness or skin changes
  • Don't recover with self-care
  • Can't be linked to a cause such as, tiring exercise

3 Causes

Muscle cramp may be caused of:

  • Overuse of muscle
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle sprain or holding a position for a longer period of time

However, the exact cause of muscle cramps, in several cases is not identified. Muscle cramp may be associated with different medical conditions like:

  • Insufficient blood supply: Arteriosclerosis of the extremities (narrowing of arteries that transport blood to your legs) can produce cramp in your legs and feet while exercising. The cramp disappears once you stop exercising.
  • Nerve compression: Lumbar stenosis (compression of nerves in your spine) also can produce cramp-like pain in your legs which worsens as you walk longer distance. Walking in a slightly flexed position (upper part of body slightly bent forward) may delay the appearance of your symptoms.
  • Mineral depletion: Low amount of potassium, calcium or magnesium can result in leg cramps. Diuretics, medications use to lower high blood pressure, may deplete these minerals.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Your doctor will diagnose whether or not you have a serious condition associated with muscle cramps.

You need medical advice if you have severe and recurrent muscle cramps that don't seem to improve with self-care.

How to prepare yourself for the visit?

Getting prepared for the visit can optimize the therapy and help make the visit more fruitful. Here is what you can do:

  • List out all the symptoms.
  • Write down your key medical information.
  • Write down the names of all your medications, vitamins or supplements.

What your doctor wants to know?

A clear talk with your doctor can optimize the therapy and improve the outcomes. Prepare yourself to answer some essential questions from your doctor. Your doctor might ask you typical questions like:

  • When did you first notice cramps?
  • How frequent and severe are your cramps?
  • Do you develop cramps after intense exercise or while resting?
  • Does relaxing relieve your cramps?
  • Do you have any other symptoms such as muscle weakness, pain or sensation that a foot, hand or limb has fallen asleep?
  • Do you have a family history of muscle cramps?
  • Have you observed any changes in your urine after exercise?

5 Treatment

Generally, muscle cramps are treated with self-care measures.

Your doctor can teach you some stretching exercises that lessen the possibility of getting muscle cramps. Drinking plenty of fluids can also reduce the chances of developing muscle cramps.

If you have recurrent cramps that disturb your sleep, your doctor may prescribe medication to relax the stiffened muscles.

6 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Alternative remedies such as taking a vitamin B-complex may help to control muscle cramps. But more researches are required to confirm this benefit.

7 Lifestyle and Coping

Following measures may help you in coping with muscle cramp:

  • Stretch the cramped muscle and massage gently to relax. Putting your weight on the cramped leg and bending the knee slightly might relax calf cramp.
  • If you can't stand, sit on the floor or on a chair while extending your affected leg. Then, try and pull the top of your foot of the affected leg towards your head while keeping the legs straight. This will help relax the muscle of hamstring (back thigh).
  • Keep yourself balanced with a chair and try to pull your foot of the affected leg up toward your buttock. This helps to ease quadriceps (thigh) cramp.
  • Applying heat or cold can also relieve muscle cramp. Use of warm towel or heating pad on tight muscle or directing the steam of hot shower onto the cramped muscle while bathing may ease cramp. Use of ice can also relieve pain.

8 Risks and Complications

There are several risks associated with muscle cramp, which include:

  • Age: Older people because of reduced muscle mass may get overstressed more easily which increases the chances of muscle cramp.
  • Dehydration: Athletes who become dehydrated during sports often develop muscle cramps.
  • Pregnancy: Muscle cramps are frequently seen during pregnancy.
  • Medical condition: People with diabetes, nerve, liver or thyroid disorders are at an increased risk of developing muscle cramps.
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