When one, part of one, or more than one of your muscles feels like it’s contracting or getting tight without any voluntary action from you — and you can’t get them to relax — that’s a muscle cramp. Muscle cramps happen for a few different reasons, but most commonly when muscles can’t relax properly.
Apart from the pain, you can tell that a muscle is cramping when it feels hard or it looks like it’s bulging. There are several parts of your body where you’re most likely to get muscle cramps:
- Hamstrings or the back of your thighs
- Quadriceps or the front of your thighs
- The back of your calves or lower legs
Older adults, people with nerve disorders, people who are pregnant or menstruating, and people who overuse or strain their muscles are more likely to develop muscle cramps. Other causes of muscle cramping include:
- Staying in one position for a long time
- Mineral deficiencies, sometimes caused by taking diuretics
There is evidence that sodium and chloride deficits along with fluid volume may trigger muscle cramps.
There are many ways to treat muscle cramps from home, including steps you can take to prevent them from happening in the first place.
Most types of muscle cramps don’t require medical attention and go away in a few seconds or minutes. However, these muscle cramp remedies can help you feel better and get back to your normal routine.
Stretch It Out
When a muscle cramp hits, you should stop doing the activity that’s causing it and stretch it out by contracting the opposing muscle. For example, if your hamstring (muscle on the back of the thigh) cramps, tighten your quads (muscles on the front of your thigh) and lift your leg toward your head.
You can stretch the cramped muscle and gently rub and massage it to help it relax. If you have a calf cramp or charley horse, stand up and put your weight on the leg with the cramp, gently bend your knee, and actively lift your toes up toward your nose. With a cramped leg, sit on the floor with your leg or foot stretched out in front of you. Keep your leg straight while you gently pull your foot back towards you.
Massage the Muscle
After stretching, you should consider massaging the muscle cramp for relief. Using a roller or simply your hands, gently massage the muscles to loosen them up.
Along with stretching, another of the important muscle cramp remedies is heat application. Applying heat soon after spasming starts can help soothe the pain that comes with muscle cramp since it helps the muscle loosen up. To do this, you can take a warm bath or shower. You can also apply a heating pad or a warm towel directly to the tense muscle.
Applying cold is another great way to treat muscle cramps. Once the pain subsides a little after heat application, you can grab an ice pack or a bag of ice and put it on the cramping muscle. Remember to wrap the ice in a towel. You can also try massaging the cramp with the ice pack to loosen up the muscle.
Elevate If Possible
If your muscle cramp is in an area that you can elevate, like your leg or foot, prop it up. Keep it positioned this way until the cramp starts to subside.
A way to get relief from muscle cramps before they even begin is to drink enough water. Dehydration often plays a part in muscle cramps, so drinking enough water throughout the day can help keep them at bay.
Drinking fluids while you have a cramp helps the muscles contract and relax. When you keep hydrated, your muscle cells also stay hydrated and are less irritable or uncomfortable.
Take a Painkiller
If your muscle cramp continues and requires more than topical home remedies, take a common painkiller like ibuprofen or paracetamol.
In most cases, muscle cramps are very brief and don’t require medical attention. However, you may want to speak with your doctor if:
- You experience severe pain along with your muscle cramps.
- Muscle cramping doesn’t go away after stretching and other home remedies.
- You get muscle cramps regularly and often.
- Your muscle cramps last a long time before subsiding.
Your doctor will see if there could be another cause for the muscle cramps that are being overlooked. Muscle cramps that are severe and recurring could be a sign of a circulatory problem or an issue with metabolism, nerves, medications, or nutrition.