Muscle cramps can be related to too much exercise, too little exercise or a variety of other factors. Most muscle cramps go away on their own or can be managed with simple self-care strategies. Sometimes, though, the help of a health care provider is needed to get consistent relief from cramping.
Causes of Muscle Cramps
Anyone can get a cramp, from those who are inactive to the most dedicated athletes. Children and the elderly are also prone to muscle cramps, as are people who are overweight, sick or taking certain medications.
Muscle cramps can be related to a variety of causes. Sometimes they occur from overexerting certain muscles while exercising or working. High heat also can lead to muscle cramps. Other times, the exact cause is difficult to determine, but it’s usually some combination of factors related to overexertion mixed with dehydration and electrolyte depletion.
The most common areas where muscle cramps occur are the front or back of the thigh and the back of the lower leg. Cramps can also be quite common in the abdomen, rib cage, arms, hands or feet.
A good stretching routine is the best way to both prevent muscle cramping and work out the cramps if they do occur. If you experience a leg muscle cramp while working or exercising, for example, stop the activity and try some gentle stretches to ease the cramp. Then use your hands to gently massage the area. If your muscles are still tense or tight, try applying heat for a few minutes. And if they’re more tender or sore, applying a cold pack should help.
It’s also important to be mindful of muscle cramps that might be more serious. Some warning signs to look for include cramps that happen frequently, are very severe, do not respond to basic self-care strategies or happen for no discernible reason. In these situations, it’s probably worth a visit with a doctor to make sure that a serious medical condition isn’t causing the muscle cramps.
SOURCES: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; American Osteopathic Association