Muscle Spasms (Muscle Cramps)

Muscle spasms (muscle cramps) are painful contractions and tightening of your muscles. They’re common, involuntary and unpredictable. Although there are steps you can take to prevent a muscle spasm and treat it when it attacks, those methods aren’t always dependable. Muscle relaxants, stretching and massage are most likely to help.


What are muscle spasms (muscle cramps)?

Muscle spasms (also called muscle cramps) occur when your muscle involuntarily and forcibly contracts uncontrollably and can’t relax. Muscle spasms are normal and quite common. They can involve part or all of a muscle or several muscles in a group. You can get muscle spasms anywhere in your body. Some of the most common types include:


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Who gets muscle spasms?

Muscle spasms can happen to anyone at any time. They can occur when you walk, sit, exercise or sleep. Some people are prone to muscle spasms and get them regularly with any type of physical exertion.

People who are most likely to get muscle spasms include:

  • Athletes.
  • Infants.
  • Pregnant people.
  • People over the age of 65.
  • People who have obesity.

Are muscle spasms (muscle cramps) serious?

Most of the time, muscle spasms aren’t something to worry about. But in some cases, muscle cramps can indicate an underlying neurological condition. These conditions affect your brain — your brain helps your muscles move. When involuntary muscle movements result from a neurological condition, it’s called dystonia.

If you have chronic muscle cramps, along with other symptoms like pain, muscle weakness or poor coordination, schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider. They can help determine if you have an underlying neurological issue.


Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of muscle spasms (muscle cramps)?

Muscle spasms can range from mild to severe. In mild cases, it might feel like your muscle is jumping around on its own. Sometimes, you might even see your muscle twitching. In severe cases, it might feel like your entire muscle stiffens up into a tight ball. (This happens a lot with leg cramps.) If a cramp is particularly painful, you might even have lingering discomfort in that area for a day or two.

If muscle spasms result from a neurological condition, you may develop additional symptoms like:

What causes muscle spasms (muscle cramps)?

Experts aren’t exactly sure why some people get muscle spasms more than others. One or more of the following may be to blame in most cases:

  • Not enough stretching.
  • Muscle fatigue.
  • Exercising in extreme heat (heat cramps).
  • Dehydration.
  • Electrolyte imbalance (having too many or too few salts and minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium, in your body).
  • Stress.
  • Too much high-intensity exercise.

Possible causes for nocturnal leg cramps (leg cramps at night), specifically, include:

  • Sitting for long periods of time.
  • Overusing your muscles.
  • Standing or working on concrete floors.
  • Sitting improperly.


Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose muscle spasms?

In addition to reviewing your health history and medications, your provider may ask questions, including:

  • How bad is your pain?
  • When do your muscle spasms usually happen?
  • How long do your cramps last?
  • What do your muscle spasms feel like?
  • When did your muscle spasms start?

Management and Treatment

How do you treat muscle spasms?

There’s no pill or injection that instantly relieves muscle spasms. But there are things you can do to try and stop muscle cramps fast:

  • Stretch the affected area.
  • Massage the affected area with your hands or a massage roller.
  • Stand up and walk around.
  • Apply heat or ice.
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

If you have severe or frequent muscle spasms, a healthcare provider may prescribe muscle relaxers to help ease your symptoms. Muscle relaxers can cause drowsiness, dizziness and nausea. Because of these side effects, this medication may not be a long-term solution. Talk to your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of muscle relaxers.


How can I prevent muscle spasms (muscle cramps)?

Muscle spasms can strike at any time. Because they’re so unpredictable, they can be difficult to prevent. There are risk factors you can’t avoid, like your age. But there are also things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Perform flexibility exercises regularly.
  • Work toward better overall fitness.
  • Stretch your muscles regularly. Do this especially for those most prone to muscle spasms.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Avoid exercising in extreme heat.
  • Wear shoes that fit you properly.
  • Stay at a weight that’s healthy for you.
  • Avoid medications that may cause muscle spasms as a side effect.
  • To prevent leg cramps, use pillows to keep your toes pointed upward if you sleep on your back. If you sleep on your chest, hang your feet over the end of the bed.
  • Stretch your muscles before you go to sleep. When you sleep, keep the sheets and blankets loose around your legs.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have frequent muscle spasms?

Muscle spasms can worsen and happen more frequently with age. Preventive techniques, like the exercises outlined above, can reduce your overall risk for muscle spasms.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

See your healthcare provider if the spasms are unbearably painful, happen frequently or last for a long time. Also, talk to your provider right away if you develop:

  • Significant pain.
  • Swelling or numbness in your leg.
  • Skin changes.
  • Leg cramps that wake you up at night.

See your healthcare provider immediately if you think your muscle spasms could be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

When should I go to the ER for muscle cramps?

Typically, muscle spasms — although painful — shouldn’t last very long. But you should call 911 (or your local emergency service number) or go to your nearest emergency room if you have:

  • Unbearable pain.
  • Muscle cramps all over your body.
  • Spasms that began after touching a potentially poisoning substance.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

If you’re having frequent muscle spasms, here are some questions you might want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • Should I see a specialist?
  • Could my muscle spasms be a symptom of a disease?
  • Can you show me the best way to stretch my muscles?
  • How can I help my child when they have a muscle spasm?
  • What massage techniques will best help when I have a muscle cramp?

Additional Common Questions

What does a muscle spasm feel like?

It’s different for everyone. But you probably know it when it happens.

Some muscle spasms cause twitching but no pain. Other spasms are so painful you can’t move until they’re over. You might even notice that your muscle looks distorted or feels hard to the touch. Spasms typically last from seconds to 15 minutes or longer and may recur (repeat) multiple times before going away.

What deficiency causes muscle cramps?

Deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals may cause muscle cramps:

Talk to your healthcare provider about supplements if you think you might have a vitamin or mineral deficiency.

What causes severe muscle cramps all over the body?

Severe muscle cramps all over your body could indicate an electrolyte imbalance or a serious underlying medical condition like atherosclerosis, thyroid disease or multiple sclerosis (MS). If you develop this type of cramping, head to your local emergency room.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

You don’t have to “just live with” muscle spasms. They may be unpredictable, but there are a few steps you can take to soothe them or even prevent them in some cases. If muscle cramps keep you from sleeping well or doing the things you love, like playing sports, talk to your healthcare provider. They can find out why you’re having muscle cramps and determine whether you have an underlying condition that needs treatment.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 10/20/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Questions 216.444.2538