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Muscle spasms and cramps

Cramps are caused by muscle spasms - involuntary contractions of one or more muscles. They can be painful but are usually harmless. They come on without warning and almost everyone will experience them at one time or another.

They often occur in the muscles of the calf or foot but can also affect the front and back of the thigh, hands, arms, abdomen and muscles along the ribcage.

What causes them and what can you do to relieve them?

Muscle cramps can be described as idiopathic, which means there is no apparent reason for them. However, they can also be down to:

How to relieve a muscle spasm

There are several things you can do to relieve a muscle cramp some of which you'd probably do automatically, like massaging the affected area or stretching it out. You can also try icing the muscle or warming the muscle or taking a bath with Epsom salts added to it to soothe muscle aches.

If you have cramp in your calf muscle or the back of your thigh you could try sitting or lying down with your leg straight out, then pulling the top of your foot towards your head. Alternatively you could try putting your weight on the affected leg and bending your knee slightly.

For a cramp in the front of your thigh hold on to a chair and pull your foot back towards your bottom.

Muscle cramps prevention

To help reduce the risk of cramps in the future:

  • Stretch properly before exercise
  • Eat more foods rich in vitamins and calcium
  • Stay well hydrated.

Usually cramps are short-lived and go away within minutes. However, if you get them frequently or for no apparent reason, seek medical advice because it could be a sign of a problem that needs treatment.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 12, 2016

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