Learn About Ailments | Muscle Cramps

Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps are forceful and sustained spasms, where the muscle contracts involuntarily and does not relax. They are often caused by overexertion or cold, and are due to either a lack of oxygen, or lack of fluid and salt to the muscle.
Muscle Cramps

In This Article
Did you know? Causes of muscle cramps
Symptoms of muscle cramps Diagnosis of muscle cramps
Related terms

  • A third of people over 60 years-old are affected by regular leg cramps
  • Of those, 40% experience cramps 2-3 times a week
  • An estimated 95% of people will experience muscle cramps in their lifetime

The exact causes of muscle cramps are unclear but the prolonged tightening of a muscle (contraction) is the common reason. The majority of muscle cramps have no underlying cause but exercise, health conditions and medications can trigger cramps.

During rigorous activity or exercise, the muscles are put under extreme stress for prolonged periods and as such sportsmen and sportswomen are typically affected by cramps. Sweating, particularly in warmer conditions, results in a loss of salt from the body which can trigger cramps.

Certain health conditions can cause muscle cramps such as Motor neurone disease and conditions of the liver, kidney and thyroid. Dehydration is also a common cause of muscle cramps.

Medications such as diuretics, asthma meds (salbutamol) and medicines that lower fats in the blood can cause frequent muscle cramps as can menstruation (abdominal cramps).

Muscle cramps can affect any part of the body but are most common in the foot, calf, thigh, abdomen, forearm and neck. During a muscle cramp, the muscle spasms resulting in pain and restricted movement.

Symptoms can last a few seconds or a few minutes and the muscle can feel hard and tender. Tenderness usually eases after 24 hours.

In the majority of cases, muscle cramps will ease within a few minutes and not return however if cramps are frequent and affecting quality of life then you should visit a GP to rule out any underlying health problem which may be the cause.

A GP will perform a physical examination and ask about any other symptoms such as numbness or swelling. If the GP suspects disease in the body then you will be referred for further tests.

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