A muscle cramp, sometimes called a “charley horse,” is a strong involuntary contraction (tightening) of a single muscle or group of muscles. Muscle cramps normally last from a few seconds to up to 10 minutes and can be very painful. Most cramps occur in the extremities, especially with the legs, but can occur in hands, arms and other muscles.
There are many factors that can cause muscle cramps, including overworking a muscle, trauma to a muscle, dehydration, low potassium, calcium or magnesium levels, a sedentary lifestyle, or even cold temperatures. Many people, especially older individuals, suffer from nighttime cramps that interrupt their sleep.
Other causes of muscle cramps include medications, such as contraceptives, diuretics and steroids, vitamin deficiencies, and underlying medical conditions, such as kidney disease.
Cramps are painful. The muscle will be tender, knotted, and firm, and you won’t be able to use it until the cramp is gone. In some cases, severe muscle cramping can cause inflammation and soreness for several days.
Muscle cramps are most often a temporary annoyance and will usually resolve on their own without treatment. They can often be stopped by standing up and walking around. Stretching, gentle massage or applying a heating pad may also help the muscle to relax.
If your muscle cramps frequently recur, seek an evaluation at Lancaster Orthopedic Group. Your physician will determine if medications or other issues are causing your symptoms.