Almost everyone experiences muscle cramps, which come without warning.
Muscle cramps can have many possible causes. They include:
- Poor blood circulation in the legs
- Overexertion of the calf muscles while exercising
- Insufficient stretching before exercise
- Exercising in the heat
- Muscle fatigue
- Magnesium and/or potassium deficiency
- Calcium deficiency in pregnant women
- Side effects from some drugs
- Malfunctioning nerves, which could be caused by a problem such as a spinal cord injury or compression of a nerve in the neck or back
When muscle cramps occur, there are several things you can do to help ease them, such as massaging, stretching, or icing the muscle, warming the muscle, or taking a bath with Epsom salt.
For a charley horse in the calf or a cramp in the back of the thigh (hamstring), try putting your weight on the affected leg and bending your knee slightly, or sit or lie down with your leg out straight and pull the top of your foot toward your head. For a cramp in the front of the thigh (quadriceps), hold onto a chair to steady yourself and pull your foot back toward your buttock.
To help reduce the risk of cramps in the future, try the following:
- Eat more foods high in vitamins and magnesium and calcium.
- Stay well hydrated.
- Stretch properly before and after exercise.
In most cases, self-care measures are sufficient for dealing with muscle cramps, which typically go away within minutes. But if you experience them frequently or for no apparent reason, you should speak to your doctor. They could signal a medical problem that requires treatment.