Muscle cramps are sudden muscle contractions. Also called muscle spasms or charley horses, a muscle cramp can be a common symptom of many things, like exercise strain or a medical condition. Muscle cramps typically go away without treatment and can be cared for at home.
A muscle cramp happens when a muscle contracts suddenly and uncontrollably. These cramps, also called muscle spasms or charley horses, can occur in one or more muscles at a time. They can be painful, but they usually only last from a few seconds to 15 minutes.
Muscle cramps can be a symptom of many different medical issues. They are often associated with muscle strain, but they can also be a sign of medical conditions such as circulation problems and liver disease.
Muscle cramps can interfere with your daily activities. Because they often happen at night, they can affect your sleep. As a result, they may reduce your quality of life. But in most cases, muscle cramps are not serious.
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Muscle cramps are very common. Anyone can develop one, but they happen more often in people who are:
Doctors do not always know what causes a muscle cramp. When your healthcare provider can’t find a specific cause, the cramps are called idiopathic. There are actually many different medical disorders that can cause this symptom. Conditions and circumstances that may cause muscle cramps include:
Muscle cramps can happen in any muscle of your body. They occur most often in the:
Most muscle cramps don’t require a visit to your doctor. If you have frequent or severe muscle cramps, your doctor may investigate the cause with a physical exam.
To look for muscle issues, your doctor will feel and move the areas where you have cramps. He or she will ask about work and other activities that may trigger muscle cramps.
Your doctor may also use blood and urine tests to find the cause of muscle cramps. These tests can identify underlying conditions such as liver or kidney disease that may cause cramps.
In rare cases, your doctor may use an imaging test called an MRI to see if neurological (nerve) problems are the cause of leg cramps.
Muscle cramps usually go away without medical treatment. You can relieve the pain associated with most muscle cramps on your own at home.
Steps you can take at home to prevent or relieve muscle cramps may include:
If you have cramps at night (nocturnal cramps), nightly stretching before bed can be helpful. Stretching can avoid overnight cramps.
Contact your doctor if you have muscle cramps that are severe or frequent enough to interfere with your quality of life or ability to sleep. Also check with a doctor if cramps:
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/10/2019.
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