A muscle cramp is an involuntary contraction of a muscle without relaxation afterward. Normal movement involves alternation of contraction and relaxation of the muscles of the body. Muscles that stabilize the body, like those of the head, trunk, and neck, work similarly. When a muscle contracts involuntarily, it is referred to as a spasm; a forceful and prolonged spasm becomes a cramp.
Symptoms of a muscle cramp include local pain at the site of the cramp, which can be severe, and firmness or tenderness of the involved muscle. Any muscle can develop a cramp, but the most common sites for muscle cramps are in the legs. The most commonly involved muscle groups are the back of the lower leg/calf, the back of the thigh (hamstrings), and the front of the thigh (quadriceps).
Other causes of muscle cramps
- Body Fluid Shifts
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Rest Cramps
- Trauma Injury
- Vigorous Activity
- Vitamin Deficiencies [Thiamine (B1), Pantothenic Acid (B5), and Pyridoxine (B6)]
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.Next Article
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Causes of Muscle Cramps
Cholera is an infectious disease characterized by intense vomiting and profuse watery diarrhea and that rapidly lease to dehydration and often death. Cholera is caused by infection with the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, which may be transmitted via infected fecal matter, food, or water.
Dehydration is the excessive loss of body water. There are a number of causes of dehydration including heat exposure, prolonged vigorous exercise, and some diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms of dehydration include headache, lightheadedness, constipation, and bad breath. Treatment for dehydration is to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
Hashimoto's Thyroiditis (Symptoms, Diet, Treatments, Pregnancy)
Hashimoto's thyroiditis or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disorder causing inflammation of the thyroid gland. Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a type of hypothyroidism, and is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the US. Symptoms of Hashimoto's thyroiditis may include dry skin, fatigue, weight gain, feeling cold, excessive sleepiness, dry skin, dry coarse hair, difficulty swallowing, a lump in the front of the throat, muscle cramps, mood changes, vague aches and pains, problems concentrating, leg swelling, constipation, and depression. There is no cure for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Diet changes, natural supplements, vitamins, or other natural products will not treat Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Treatment for the autoimmune disorder is with thyroid hormone replacement therapy, which will be necessary for the rest of the person’s life.
Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM)
Inclusion body myositis (IBM) is a progressive muscle disorder characterized by muscle inflammation, weakness, and atrophy (wasting). It is a type of inflammatory myopathy. IBM develops in adulthood, usually after age 50.
Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)
Potassium is an essential electrolyte necessary for cell function. Low potassium (hypokalemia) may be caused by diarrhea, vomiting, ileostomy, colon polyps, laxative use, diuretics, elevated corticosteroid levels, renal artery stenosis, and renal tubular acidosis, or other medications. Symptoms of low potassium include weakness, aches, and cramps of the muscles. Treatment is dependent upon the cause of the low potassium (hypokalemia).
Pregnancy (Week by Week, Trimesters)
Signs and symptoms of pregnancy vary by stage (trimester). The earliest pregnancy symptom is typically a missed period, but others include breast swelling and tenderness, nausea and sometimes vomiting, fatigue, and bloating. Second trimester symptoms include backache, weight gain, itching, and possible stretch marks. Third trimester symptoms are additional weight gain, heartburn, hemorrhoids, swelling of the ankles, fingers, and face, breast tenderness, and trouble sleeping. Eating a healthy diet, getting a moderate amount of exercise, also are recommended for a healthy pregnancy. Information about the week by week growth of your baby in the womb are provided.
Restless Leg Syndrome (Symptoms, Causes, Treatment Medications, Home Remedies)
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a common cause for painful legs that typically eases with motion, and becomes worse and more noticeable at rest. This characteristic nighttime worsening can frequently lead to insomnia. Treatment of the symptoms of restless leg syndrome is generally with medication as well as treating any underlying condition causing restless leg syndrome.
Shin splints result from inflammation from injury to the tendon and adjacent tissues in the front of the outer leg. Shin splints commonly occur in runners or aggressive walkers, causing pain and discomfort. An increase in workout intensity, weak ankles and pronation may be to blame for shin splints. Stretching, strengthening, and icing the affected area are effective treatments for shin splints. Rest and anti-inflammatory medications are also advised.
Tetanus is an often-fatal disease caused by nerve toxins produced by the common bacteria Clostridium tetani. In a 7-day period after infection, a person experiences muscle spasms, restlessness, headache, irritability, then lockjaw, and the lungs stop functioning. Tetanus is treatable with antibiotics and drainage. Sedation is often give to stop muscle spasms.
Examples of Medications for Muscle Cramps
- alprazolam (Xanax, Xanax XR, Niravam) Anti-Anxiety Drug
- Benzodiazepines vs. Cyclobenzaprine
- carisoprodol (Soma)
- Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) vs. carisoprodol (Soma)
- Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) vs. naproxen (Aleve)
- cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril, Amrix, Fexmid)
- Cyclobenzaprine vs. Norco (hydrocodone acetaminophen)
- Cyclobenzaprine vs. Xanax (alprazolam)
- Cyclobenzaprine vs. Zanaflex
- diazepam (Valium, Diastat, Acudial, Diastat Pediatric, Diazepam Intensol)
- Ketorolac vs. diclofenac