Muscle Cramps and Spasms

Muscle cramps or Charley horses can occur at any time. You could probably be running, or you might be sleeping when you can experience a muscle cramp. When will you know?

You might suddenly experience a sudden tightness of your calf muscle. It will become hard and very painful. That is probably a muscle cramp.

Sometimes these are called Charley horses. Most often, they occur in the calf muscles. Cramps are generally the contracted state of a muscle when it can’t relax. These are involuntary forceful contractions, and they cause pain.

This might happen due to a lot of causes. This article will try to point out the different causes. Muscle cramps can occur in other areas, too, like thighs, hands and arms, abdomen, and the rib cage muscles.

Causes of Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps can be due to many causes. Let us go through those causes.

  1. Poor blood circulation in the legs might be the cause.
  2. The strenuous activity of the calf muscles during exercises.
  3. Often people don’t stretch properly before exercising. Improper stretching can be a cause.
  4. Exercising in high temperatures or a hot environment.
  5. Muscle fatigue is a common cause.
  6. If you don’t take enough fluid during strenuous activity, you will be subject to dehydration.
  7. Salt deficiency is a common cause. Salts help in all of the chemical reactions taking place in the body. Lack of magnesium or potassium deficiency.
  8. Pregnant women suffer from calcium deficiency. Calcium is very vital because they aid in muscle contraction. Lack of calcium can be a problem.
  9. Lack of proper functioning of the nerves due to a spinal cord injury often gives rise to muscle cramps.

Calf Muscle Cramps

Some medicines, when administered, can pose a threat because they might cause muscle cramps as side effects.

  • Diuretics such as Lasix (furosemide), Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide)
  • Alzheimer’s drugs like Aricept (donepezil)
  • Drugs for myasthenia gravis like Prostigmine (neostigmine)
  • Drugs to treat angina or hypertension, such as Procardia (nifedipine)
  • Osteoporosis drugs as Evista (raloxifene)
  • Drugs for asthma-like Brethine (terbutaline), Proventil.
  • Medications for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease like Tasmar (tolcapone).
  • Statin drugs for the treatment of cholesterol, such as Crestor (rosuvastatin).

How to get rid of leg cramps

Painful muscle contractions you experience during the spasm can wake you up from sleep with their intensity. Sometimes there is no real cause for muscle spasms, and therefore it is more difficult to take care of them. However, several methods can solve painful leg cramps.

Step 1: If cramps are a constant problem that does not stop, see your doctor. He will be able to determine whether it is a serious health issue that causes muscle contraction.

Step 2: Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can cause muscle spasms in the legs, so drink six to eight glasses of water a day.

Step 3: Stretch out before the workout. Careful muscle warm-up before strenuous training will prevent the damage that can later cause severe pain.

Step 4: Massage your feet every night before going to bed. If you catch a cramp in the middle of the night, stretch your legs and hold them in that position for a few seconds, then slowly relax. Repeat the stretching until the cramp disappears completely. You can also use ice to blunt the pain or go over the painful spot with ice.

Step 5: Take enough vitamins and notable calcium. Potassium is also very effective in relieving leg cramps and vitamin D. Magnesium helps with legs cramps, but before taking these supplements, consult your doctor.

Leg cramps relief, alternative treatment

Grate the fresh lemon and rub your feet with it from the bottom up every morning and evening. It would help if you rubbed the entire foot and heel bed. Wait until the lemon juice dries on your skin, then you can put on socks. Do this every day for at least a month.

The propolis dosage drops 20 %( stronger, the better). Massage the painful parts of your feet with this liquid every morning and evening after you dry the skin with the lemon juice.

You should also drink 20 of these drops in half a glass of water in the morning and the evening. After two weeks, you will feel the improvement, and cramps will appear more seldom.

Every morning before breakfast, eat a tablespoon of honey and drink it with a cup of yogurt. It is best to get honey combined with royal jelly, pollen, and propolis. This provides you the calcium and minerals.

Read: How to relieve foot pain from standing all-day

Leg cramps foods

In addition to all, you can try to bring in food that could help you to prevent leg cramps. Consume food rich in sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, water, and omega 3’s. A lot of the food that contains these ingredients is beneficial for preventing leg cramps, and here are just some of them:

  • Beans
  • Fsh
  • Celery
  • Green leafy veggies
  • Sesame seeds
  • Almonds
  • Dried Fruit
  • Bananas
  • Melons
  • Figs

To get rid of leg cramps, you can use sunflower oil to massage. It is recommended to massage leg muscles two to three times a day. This helps to reduce cramps and soothes even rheumatic pains and aches due to arthritis. In this way, you keep your legs healthy.

Types of cramps

Muscle cramps are painful involuntary contractions of the muscle. These muscle groups can’t relax due to the lack of ATP synthesis. The common groups to suffer muscle cramps are calves, thighs, shoulder, abdomen, etc. Too much exertion, lack of fluid intake, and lack of electrolytes often contribute to the cause.

Let us go through some of the types of muscle cramps:

1. Smooth muscle cramps

Smooth muscle cramps can be symptomatic. Painful contractions can be due to endometriosis. Sometimes a female experiences abdominal cramps during the menstrual cycle.

2. Skeletal muscle cramps

Skeletal muscles have the property of voluntary contractions. Skeletal muscles are found to affect some specific regions. These are generally calves, thighs, arches of the foot, shoulder, abdomen, etc. Sometimes they are called Charley horses.

This kind of cramp occurs due to extreme overwork, which can be very painful. But skeletal cramps can occur at any moment, even while you might be sleeping. It is generally seen that the affected person cannot use the part for days due to the pain. Usually, the pain lasts for several days, but it is known to go by itself.

3. Nocturnal leg cramps

Nocturnal leg cramps, as the name suggests, happen at night. These cramps are experienced in the calves, sole of your foot, thighs, or other body parts while sleeping or resting. These cramps are found to be generally of brief duration.

It can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. These cramps are usually followed by muscle soreness. The exact causes of these cramps are unknown, but some probable causes are. It might be due to a lack of fluids and certain minerals like sodium, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. These can are usually seen in older adults. But teenagers can be affected by these cramps if they are found to exercise at night.

Sometimes the lack of proper blood supply to that particular part may also give rise to pain. Pregnancy is also a cause. Women in their late stages of pregnancy often experience these cramps. The intensity usually varies from mild to severe.

Some drugs are said to cause nocturnal cramps:

  • Diuretics.
  • Long-acting adrenergic beta-agonists or known as LABAs
  • Statins

Nocturnal cramps can be frightening. All of a sudden, if you start feeling pain while you are sleeping, it is a cause of anxiety. But trying to move the part or attempting to walk usually eases the pain.

Muscle Cramps due to Heat

Heat cramps can be very painful. These are a kind of muscle cramps. Muscles may suffer spasms, or it can cause jerking involuntarily. Heat cramps usually occur during exercise in a hot climate, or they may begin after a few hours.

Heat cramps are generally seen in calves, shoulders, thighs, and muscle groups. It is caused due to strenuous activity of these muscle groups.

You are subjected to high risk if you are working in high temperatures. This usually happens when you are not accustomed to doing heavy work. This may not appear in the first few days. Exercising induces sweating. It is natural for you to sweat a lot. But if you don’t take enough fluid or if you take fluids that lack the proper amount of salt, then heat cramps can develop.

muscle cramps due to heat


The exact cause of heat cramps is yet to be known. This may happen due to electrolyte imbalance. Electrolytes are basically our body salts. These are sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. They are essential in the chemical changes that take place in our bodies. So an electrolyte imbalance can cause problems.

When we sweat, we lose a lot of sodium. Sodium is a vital salt. Sodium helps in many bodily functions. When sodium content in the body gets low, then the condition is said to be hyponatremia. So it is beneficial to drink salt-enriched foods.


The usual representations of muscle spasms are:

  • Muscle spasms are generally painful
  • These occur involuntarily.
  • You can feel muscle spasms for a brief amount of time.
  • The painful experience is intermittent in nature
  • Once it comes, it usually goes away on its own.

Seek professional help

Heat cramps are generally painful. The cramps come and usually go away on their own. But if you find that your pain is not diminishing even after considerable rest, you might need professional help.

  • Suppose you find yourself unable to drink enough fluids because of a nauseating effect. You should probably need intravenous fluid replacement therapy with normal saline.
  • Heat cramps are not usually accompanied by heat exhaustion. But if it is the case, you should immediately call a doctor.
  • Severe forms of heat illness like nausea, vomiting, high temperatures, dizziness, and fatigue, require consultation with a doctor and get immediate treatment.

Prevention of Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are a sort of muscle cramps which due to strenuous activity in a relatively hot climate without proper fluid replacement. Lack of fluid causes the muscle to go through involuntary painful contractions. Let us take a look at ways to prevent heat cramps:

Home Remedies

Heat cramps are generally not very serious. Home treatment is enough to treat heat cramps. Heat cramps don’t usually stay. They are said to go away by themselves. All you have to do is drink enough fluid with balanced salt content.

  1. You can make your own salt solution. Just add half a teaspoon of salt to a glass of water and mix it. Now drink it up. You can sometimes add a bit of lemon too.
  2. You can also go for sports drinks. These are really good beverages having the right electrolyte balance.
  3. It is advisable not to go for salt tablets as they may upset your stomach. Moreover, they don’t replace the fluid which is lost.

Related: leg cramps during pregnancy

How to prevent foot cramps?

  1. Try to take a warm bath, then do some calf and foot stretching before heading to your bed. Don’t point your toes while you are stretching or sleeping. If it is cold, do cover your toes.
  2. Warm-up before exercising is essential. Always stretch properly before any exercise. Stretch after exercise to cool down the muscles. Get your postures correct during exercises.
  3. When you live in a hot climate, you need to drink plenty of water. While exercising, always replenish yourself with any sports drink.
  4. Plan on a diet that is rich in minerals. Your body needs calcium, magnesium, potassium, etc. Try to eat vegetables as well as fruits. These contain a lot of minerals.

When to call for emergency help?

Generally, heat cramps don’t require emergency medical attention. They might happen anytime with any individual, but they usually go away within a short period.

But sometimes, you might find them persistent even after proper fluid replacement or when all the home treatment means have failed.

  • When the patient is found to have a high but weak pulse rate, he might have hypertension or hypotension with rapid shallow breaths.
  • When the patient is found with a high body temperature, he may also be unconscious and confused.
  • When the patient is seen to be hyperventilating with warm and dry skin.

Muscle Cramps – Pathophysiology

Skeletal muscles are found to work as antagonistic pairs. When one skeletal muscle contracts, the opposing skeletal muscle has to relax. Skeletal muscles contract when actin and myosin filaments in the muscles get attached, and they perform like a rowboat.

Cramps are the causes of this actin and myosin not getting detached properly. So the muscles can’t relax. They stay in a contracted state, and this causes pain. In the case of skeletal muscle, the ATP usually gets attached to the myosin heads.

This occurrence detaches them from the actin filaments. This induces relaxation. When the ATP is not synthesized in enough amounts, the actin and myosin don’t get separated, and the muscle remains in a contracted state.

This is the cause of a cramp. If you try to extend the contraction to make it relax, then the muscle might get torn. So don’t attempt this. Let the muscle relax by itself. The body will gradually resynthesize ATP, and the actin and myosin will eventually get separated.

Iatrogenic causes

Statins are found to cause myalgia and cramps, besides other side effects. Other factors, which are said to increase the possibility of these side effects, are hyperthyroidism, physical exercise, age, a history of cramps, the female gender, etc.

Up to 80% of athletes who are said to use statins have been found to suffer prominent adverse muscular side effects. About 10-25% of the statin-using population suffers from these cramps. This adverse effect often goes away when the person uses a different statin.

But this can lead to even more serious problems in the future. It is better to keep this fact in mind. A new supplementation coenzyme, Q10, is quite effective in reducing the side effects of statin. But till now, a recent study has not come up with enough evidence to prove the success rate of avoiding a myopathy.


Stretching may be immediately helpful in curing cramps. Slow sustained elongates the muscle fibers and may relax the muscle. But heat cramps due to extreme exhaustion would need proper fluid replacement.


Quinine is sometimes given, but it is not effective. It is given when other treatments have failed. Sometimes vitamin B complex, calcium channel blockers, and naftidrofuryl or lidocaine are used.

These prove effective in treating cramps to some extent. You can always try some prevention means by the regular condition of the body. Regular exercising with adequate fluid intake rich in electrolytes can prevent cramps from developing.