A muscle cramp is a sudden and involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles. If you've ever been awakened in the night or stopped in your tracks by a sudden charley horse, you know that muscle cramps can cause excruciating pain. Though generally harmless, muscle cramps can make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle.
Long periods of exercise or physical labor, particularly in hot weather, may lead to muscle cramps. Some medications and certain medical conditions also may cause muscle cramps.
You can usually treat muscle cramps at home with self-care measures.
Signs and symptoms of a muscle cramp include:
When to see a doctor
Overuse of a muscle, dehydration, muscle strain or simply holding a position for a prolonged period of time may result in a muscle cramp. Athletes who become fatigued and dehydrated while participating in warm-weather sports frequently develop muscle cramps. Another common type of muscle cramp — nocturnal cramps — occurs in your calf muscles or toes during sleep.
In many cases, however, the exact cause of a muscle cramp isn't known.
Although most muscle cramps are harmless, some may be related to an underlying medical condition, such as:
Muscle cramps are also part of certain conditions such as nerve, kidney, thyroid or hormone disorders; diabetes; hypoglycemia; and anemia.
Preparing for your appointment
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have muscle cramps that are severe, frequent and not getting better with self-care.
When you see your doctor, bring a list of your key medical information, including any allergies or medical conditions, and the names of all the medications, vitamins and supplements you're taking.
Your doctor is likely to ask a number of questions to help determine if you should have any tests or see a specialist. To make the most of your appointment, consider in advance your answers to the following:
Treatments and drugs
You can usually treat muscle cramps with self-care measures. Your doctor can show you stretching exercises that can help you reduce your chances of getting muscle cramps. Making sure you stay well hydrated also can help.
For recurrent cramps that disturb your sleep, your doctor may prescribe a medication to relax your muscles.
Taking vitamin B complex supplements may help manage leg cramps. However, more research is needed to confirm this benefit.
Always talk with your doctor before taking a new dietary supplement. Your doctor can help you understand the risks and benefits of the supplement, alert you to any potential interactions with your current medications, and recommend the right starting dosage for you.
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you have a cramp, these actions may provide relief:
To do the calf stretch: Stand at arm's length from a wall with your palms flat against the wall. Keep one leg back with your knee straight and your heel flat on the floor. Slowly bend your elbows and ...
These steps may help prevent cramps:
Last Updated: 2010-07-16
© 1998-2014 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. "Mayo," "Mayo Clinic," "MayoClinic.com," "Mayo Clinic Health Information," "Reliable information for a healthier life" and the triple-shield Mayo logo are trademarks of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Terms and conditions of use