Muscle Cramps

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What is the treatment of skeletal muscle cramps?

Most cramps can be stopped if the muscle can be stretched. For many cramps of the feet and legs, this stretching can often be accomplished by standing up and walking around. For a calf muscle cramp, the person can stand about 2 to 2.5 feet from a wall (possibly farther for a tall person) and lean into the wall to place the forearms against the wall with the knees and back straight and the heels in contact with the floor. (It is best to learn this maneuver at a time when you don't have the cramp.) Another technique involves flexing the ankle by pulling the toes up toward the head while still lying in bed with the leg as straight as possible. For writer's cramp (contractures in the hand), pressing the hand on a wall with the fingers facing down will stretch the cramping finger flexor muscles.

Gently massaging the muscle will often help it to relax, as will applying warmth from a heating pad or hot soak. If the cramp is associated with fluid loss, as is often the case with vigorous physical activity, fluid and electrolyte (especially sodium and potassium) replacement is essential. Medicines generally are not needed to treat an ordinary cramp that is active since most cramps subside spontaneously before enough medicine would be absorbed to even have an effect.

What types of doctors treat muscle cramps?

Because there are so many different causes and types of muscle cramps, many different medical specialists may be involved in their treatment. Most commonly, patients would consult their primary-care provider, including specialists in internal medicine or family medicine. If the cramps are the result of a sudden injury or illness, emergency-medicine specialists would treat the patient. Cramps due to specific medical conditions may be treated by different specialists, including neurologists, orthopedists, nephrologists, endocrinologists, cardiologists, sports-medicine specialists, physiatrists, or surgeons. Continue Reading

Reviewed on 4/21/2016
References
REFERENCES:

Longo, D.L., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 18th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2011.

"Muscle Spasms, Cramps, and Charley Horse." WebMD.com. Sept. 5, 2012. <http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/muscle-spasms-cramps-charley-horse>.

United States. Food and Drug Administration. "FDA Drug Safety Communication: New Risk Management Plan and Patient Information Guide for Qualapin (Quinine Sulfate)." July, 8, 2010.

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