How To Stop Muscle Cramps Fast

A muscle cramp can strike suddenly with no warning signs. What makes them particularly frustrating is that they frequently occur when you’re asleep or laying down.

How to Stop Leg Muscle Cramps

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If you have a leg cramp, rest and gentle stretching may help relax the muscle. Other practices, like staying hydrated and changing up your diet, may help prevent leg cramps.

Muscle cramps happen when a muscle involuntarily contracts on its own. Usually, you feel a hard lump at the point of pain — that’s the contracted muscle.

Cramps usually occur for a reason. If you haven’t strained a muscle, you’re probably cramping because your muscle is fatigued or overused or your body is dehydrated.

Or maybe you’re not getting enough electrolytes, such as potassium or magnesium. These minerals help your muscles work more smoothly, and fluids help your body process the minerals.

Most cases of muscle cramps don’t indicate a worrisome underlying condition. People who are 65 and older are at greater risk for them. Cramps might be related to alcoholism, hypothyroidism, or diabetes. If the frequency of your cramps bothers you, tell your doctor.

Meanwhile, there are several remedies you can try yourself.

Relax the cramping muscle. Stop any activity that may have induced the cramp and lightly stretch the muscle, gently holding the stretch. You may even massage the muscle while you stretch or after you finish.

Consider applying a heating pad to the area, as described below, after stretching. If your calf muscle cramps in the middle of the night, stand up and slowly put weight on the affected leg to push the heel down and stretch out the muscle.

If you regularly have leg cramps that aren’t related to a more serious condition, you might try adding more magnesium to your diet. Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of magnesium.

Magnesium has been suggested for treating pregnant women’s muscle cramps, but more studies are needed. Talk to your doctor before taking any magnesium supplements if you’re pregnant.

Many personal trainers, coaches, and physical therapists also recommend using magnesium on the outside of your body in the form of Epsom salts. You can find a great selection online.

Try applying this old-school remedy to a wet cloth and pressing it onto a cramped muscle, or add some to a hot bath for a soak.

In fact, a hot soak provides relief for many, with or without Epsom salts.

Dry heat in the form of a heating pad may even help. There are a variety of options available online.

Start the pad on the lowest setting and only increase heat if you’re not getting any relief at all.

If you have diabetes, a spinal cord injury, or another condition that might prevent you from feeling heat, a heating pad isn’t a good option.

Another possible way to stop leg cramps is to hydrate. It might take a little longer to ease your pain, but once you’ve had water or a sports drink with electrolytes, you could prevent another cramp.

Walking around may help ease leg cramps by sending a signal to the muscle that it needs to relax after it contracts.

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If all else fails, and you continue to have regular muscle cramps, consider getting regular massages to help the muscles relax.

Last medically reviewed on February 7, 2018

How To Stop Muscle Cramps Fast and Efficiently

Nothing can ruin a relaxing nap or a run around the neighborhood like a grabbing pain through a muscle. These involuntary contractions are commonly known as muscle cramps or a “charliy horse”, and they can strike at any moment.

Muscle cramps most frequently occur in your calves and thighs, but they can happen in any muscle of the body.

Although people of all ages encounter the occasional muscle cramp, they become much more likely as you age. Our muscles and nerves naturally weaken over time, and unless you take steps to slow down the effects of aging , you might find yourself experiencing muscle cramps more often than before.

Age isn’t the only cause of muscle cramps, and making a few lifestyle changes can help to reduce their frequency and severity, too.

What Are Muscle Cramps?

Muscle cramps are involuntary spasms that occur when your muscles contract and then cannot relax. These cramps generally last a few seconds, but they can also last for several minutes or longer.

A cramp might involve singular muscles or an entire group, and muscle cramps can occur anywhere in the body. They’re most common in your calves, thighs, abdomen, back, arms, and hands. Muscle cramps are extremely common and can happen to anyone regardless of age, health, and lifestyle.

Why is it called a charley horse, or charlie horse? Lore has it that the term comes from early baseball players who used the term to describe the contraction and hardening of muscles in the thigh from starting and stopping when chasing balls. The term supposedly comes from a player who said the limping looked like an old horse of his, Charley.

What Causes Muscle Cramps?

Muscle cramps have a variety of potential causes. Age is one of the most significant contributing factors, but it’s not the only.

Here are a few of the other reasons that muscle cramps happen:

  • Exercise . Lifting weights is a great way to build muscle mass and strength , but overdoing it can lead to muscle fatigue, cramps, strains, and soreness, not to mention electrolyte imbalances. Ensure you’re giving your body plenty of time to rest after working out and properly stretching before you get started.
  • Dehydration . Your muscles are 76% water , and if you’re even a little bit dehydrated, it can lead to muscle cramps. Without enough fluid, your muscles can’t properly relax, and they’ll be more prone to tightening up and cramping.
  • Poor circulation . Inconsistent blood flow can result in muscles not getting enough oxygen. It’s common for people with poor circulation to experience frequent cramping, throbbing, tingling, and numbness.
  • Vitamin deficiency . Vitamins B1, B12, and D, and minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium all play a role in regulating your muscles and helping your body function properly. A deficiency in one or several of these nutrients can cause cramps to occur more frequently.
  • Intense cold. Freezing temperatures and icy water will cause the soft tissues around your joints and muscles to expand. This expansion can be particularly painful for anyone with arthritis, and it can also cause your muscles to cramp.
  • Side effects of medications . Certain medications can cause muscle cramps, including diuretics, beta-blockers, statins, fibrates, ACE inhibitors, and antipsychotics. If you take any of these medications and experience muscle cramps, your medication may be the cause.

How Do You Stop a Muscle Cramp Once It Starts?

A muscle cramp can strike suddenly with no warning signs. What makes them particularly frustrating is that they frequently occur when you’re asleep or laying down.

Whatever the situation, you will undoubtedly want to soothe those muscles and get rid of that cramp as soon as possible.

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These six home cramp remedies can help to calm muscles and loosen them up:

  1. Stretch the muscle as much as possible. It might be a little difficult and painful at first, but try to straighten it out and flex it gently.
  2. Massage the muscle with your hands or a massaging tool. A deep rub of your muscle will increase blood flow and help soothe the cramping sensation more quickly.
  3. Use a heating pad or warm towel, or take a hot bath or warm shower. Increasing the heat around your muscle can help relax it and stimulate blood flow to the area.
  4. Apply ice or a cold pack. An ice pack can help numb the area and reduce the discomfort you’re feeling. It also calms inflammation, reducing swelling in the area that might make your cramps worse.
  5. Take over-the-counter pain medication to ease symptoms. A few tablets of ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen can help reduce your pain. It also helps to thin your blood so more flows into the affected muscle.
  6. Elevate the muscle above your heart if possible. Muscle cramps can lead to your tissues being swollen and pressing up against the nerves that send pain signals to your brain. Elevating the affected muscle, like your quadriceps or hamstrings, can help to drain these excess fluids and reduce the feelings of pain.

Can You Prevent Muscle Cramps?

The best way to prevent a muscle cramp is to figure out what’s causing them in the first place. That’s easier said than done, as many factors can contribute to a muscle cramp. However, there are a few things that you can do to reduce the frequency and severity of your cramps.

  • Drink plenty of water and electrolytes . Experts recommended getting at least 15.5 cups (124 ounces) of fluids every day. Electrolytes like sodium are also crucial, which is why some people suggest that you drink pickle juice for a cramp. That’s probably unnecessary, but maintaining good hydration while exercising is important.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. These substances are diuretics and cause you to urinate more frequently. Drinking too much of them can cause you to get dehydrated quickly, contributing to cramp formation.
  • Eat a nutritious diet. A diet rich in vitamin B, magnesium, vitamin D, and potassium can keep your muscles healthy and strong. The Mediterranean diet is loaded with foods high amounts of these nutrients, such as leafy greens, bananas, and black beans.
  • Stretch your muscles . Stretching is essential before exercise, but you should be doing it throughout the day regardless. Keeping your muscles loose and limber can prevent them from suddenly tightening and cramping up.
  • Get massages often . A deep tissue massage can help work out any kinks in your muscles that might be causing cramps. The massage can stimulate blood flow to the area and help muscles stop cramping.
  • Be careful with exercise . Along with stretching, you need to be cautious with your exercise routine. Your muscles need time to rest and recover after a workout. Give them a day between sessions to heal.
  • Switch medications . Even if your medication is causing cramps, you should continue taking it if your doctor prescribed it. However, schedule an appointment with your prescribing doctor and ask for medical advice about alternative treatment options if you think your medication is causing cramping.
  • Lose some weight . For those who are overweight or obese, shedding extra pounds can help take some of the pressure off your muscles. Losing weight can reduce the adipose (fat) tissue around your muscles and increase blood flow, too.

The Takeaway

Muscle cramps can strike suddenly and last for several minutes, but a few changes to your lifestyle can help reduce your risk and frequency.

If muscle cramps are a repeat issue for you, take time to stretch your muscles daily or before exercise, drink lots of water, and get all of the essential vitamins in a healthy diet. You probably won’t be able to prevent all muscle cramps, but these tasks can help to reduce their frequency and severity.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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