Learn about this sudden, painful tightening of a muscle and what to do about it.
A muscle cramp is a sudden, unexpected tightening of one or more muscles. Sometimes called a charley horse, a muscle cramp can be very painful. Exercising or working hard, especially in heat, can lead to muscle cramps. Some medicines and illnesses also might cause muscle cramps.
Muscle cramps aren't usually harmful. Self-care measures can treat most muscle cramps.
Muscle cramps occur mostly in leg muscles, most often in the calf. Cramps usually last for seconds to minutes. After the cramp eases, the area might be sore for hours or days.
Muscle cramps usually go away on their own. They don't usually need medical care. However, see a health care provider for cramps that:
A muscle cramp can happen after working a muscle too hard or straining it, losing body fluids through sweat or simply holding a position for a long time. Often, however, the cause isn't known.
Most muscle cramps are harmless. But some might be related to a medical concern, such as:
Factors that might increase the risk of muscle cramps include:
These steps might help prevent cramps:
Self-care measures usually can treat muscle cramps. A health care provider can show you stretching exercises that can reduce the chances of getting muscle cramps. Drinking plenty of fluids can also help prevent muscle cramps.
If you keep getting cramps that wake you from sleep, a care provider might prescribe medicine to relax muscles or help you sleep.
If you have a cramp, these actions might help:
Stretch and massage. Stretch the cramped muscle and gently rub it. For a calf cramp, keep the leg straight while pulling the top of your foot on the side that's cramped toward your face. Also try standing with your weight on your cramped leg and pressing down firmly. This helps ease a cramp in the back of the thigh too.
For a front thigh cramp, try pulling the foot on that leg up toward your buttock. Hold on to a chair to steady yourself.
While holding on to a chair, keep one leg back with your knee straight and your heel flat on the floor. Slowly bend your elbows and front knee and move your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your calf. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds. Switch leg positions and repeat with your other leg.
Taking vitamin B complex and other vitamins might help manage leg cramps. Talk to your health care provider about what to take.
See a health care provider if you have muscle cramps often that are severe and not getting better with self-care.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Make a list of:
For muscle cramps, questions to ask your provider might include:
Ask any other questions you have.
Your provider is likely to ask you questions, including: