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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Muscle Cramps
A muscle cramp is a strong, painful contraction or tightening of a muscle that comes on suddenly and lasts from a few seconds to several minutes. It often occurs in the legs. A muscle cramp is also called a charley horse.
Nighttime leg cramps are usually sudden spasms, or tightening, of muscles in the calf. The muscle cramps can sometimes happen in the thigh or the foot. They often occur just as you are falling asleep or waking up.
The cause of muscle cramps isn't always known. Muscle cramps may be brought on by many conditions or activities, such as:
You may need to try several different ways to stop a muscle cramp before you find what works best for you. Here are some things you can try:
Here are some things you can try for a leg cramp:
If you think a medicine is causing muscle cramps:
These tips may help prevent muscle cramps:
If you are taking medicines that are known to cause leg cramps, your doctor may prescribe different medicines.
Talk with your doctor if you have muscle cramps that keep coming back or are severe. These may be symptoms of another problem, such as restless legs syndrome.
If cramps keep coming back, bother you a lot, or interfere with your sleep, your doctor may prescribe medicine that relaxes your muscles.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Neurology (2010). AAN summary of evidence-based guideline for clinicians: Symptomatic treatment for muscle cramps. Available online: http://www.aan.com/practice/guideline/uploads/394.pdf.
American Academy of Neurology (2010). AAN summary of evidence-based guideline for patients and their families: Drug treatments for symptoms of muscle cramps. Available online: http://www.aan.com/practice/guideline/uploads/395.pdf.
Katzberg HD, et al. (2010). Assessment: Symptomatic treatment for muscle cramps (an evidence-based review): Report of the Therapeutics and Technology Assessment Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology, 74(8): 691–696. Available online: http://www.neurology.org/cgi/content/full/74/8/691.
Young G (2014). Leg cramps. BMJ Clinical Evidence. http://clinicalevidence.bmj.com/x/systematic-review/1113/overview.html. Accessed April 14, 2016.
Current as ofJune 3, 2018
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family MedicineKarin M. Lindholm, DO - Neurology
Current as of:
June 3, 2018
Medical Review:Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Karin M. Lindholm, DO - Neurology
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