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Muscle cramps are very common among adults and even for some children. Any muscle that is under voluntary control (called skeletal muscles) can experience a cramp, but those of the extremities, especially the legs and feet, are most commonly involved.

A muscle cramp occurs when a muscle experiences a strong involuntary contraction and does not relax. A cramp or "spasm" often causes a palpable or visible hardening (knotting) of the muscle. A cramp is often very painful and the sufferer must stop his activity and seek relief. It can last from a few seconds to several minutes and can recur several times until it finally disappears.

Severe cramps may also be accompanied by tenderness, swelling and soreness, which can persist for days even after the cramp subsides. A cramp may involve a portion of a muscle, an entire muscle, or more than one muscle that act together.

The most commonly involved muscle groups are the back of the lower legs or calf, the back of the thighs (or hamstrings), and the front of the thighs (or quadriceps). Other muscles that are also affected are those of the feet, arms, hands, abdomen, and in the rib cage.

Possible Causes Of Cramps

The most common causes of muscle cramps include:

  • Insufficient stretching before exercise
  • Overexertion of muscles while exercising
  • Exercising in the heat
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Calcium deficiency
  • Magnesium deficiency
  • Potassium deficiency
  • Malfunctioning nerves
  • Vitamin deficiency involving thiamine (vitamin B1), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), and pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
  • Poor circulation, which results in inadequate delivery of oxygen to the muscle. This usually occurs when walking or exercising.
  • Certain medicine, including diuretics (furosemide), donepezil (Aricept), neostigmine (Prostigmine), raloxifene (Evista), tolcapone (Tasmar), nifedipine (Procardia), terbutaline (Brethine), Albuterol (Ventolin), and lovastatin (Mevacor).
  • Withdrawal from medications and substances such as alcohol, sedatives, anti-anxiety medications (diazepam), narcotics, barbiturates, and other drugs.

Remedies For Cramps

Cramps can usually be relieved by stretching the affected muscle. Many cramps in the legs and feet improve by standing and walking around. For leg muscle cramps, you can stand about two to 2.5 feet away from a wall and lean towards the wall with the back and knees straight and the heels touching the floor. You can also flex the ankle by pulling the toes toward your head while lying in bed with the leg straight. Gently massage the muscle to help it relax, and apply a warm heating pad.

Cramps associated with dehydration and vigorous physical activity may be relieved with fluid and electrolyte replacement. Medications are usually not needed to treat ordinary cramps, however, muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), baclofen (Lioresal), and orphenadrine (Norflex) may be used if the muscle cramps are due to an injury or a temporary event.

To help reduce your risk of muscle cramps:

  • Eat foods that are high in vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium.
  • Maintain proper hydration during physical activity.
  • Always do proper stretching before exercise.

In most cases, home remedies are enough to relieve muscle cramps within a few minutes. However, if they occur with no apparent reason or you experience cramps frequently, consult your doctor for proper evaluation and treatment.

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