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Muscle Cramps: Causes, Signs, Symptoms and Types of Muscle Cramps

What are Muscle Cramps?

An automatically and forcibly contracted muscle that does not unwind or relax can be called as a muscle cramp.1 When we utilize the muscles that can be controlled willfully, for example, those of our arms and legs, they relax and contract alternately as we move our limbs. Muscles that provide support to our neck, head, and trunk contract correspondingly in a synchronized manner to keep up our stance. A willfully controlled muscle that involuntarily contracts is said to be in a “spasm”. If the spasm sustain and is quite forceful, it can turn into a muscle cramp. Muscle cramps regularly cause a noticeable or tangible solidifying of the involved muscle.

What are Muscle Cramps?

How Long Does Muscle Cramp Lasts and How Common is It?

Muscle cramps can last for few moments or even can last for an hour or even more. Muscle cramps can occur multiple times, before it is finally gone, which is quite common. Muscle cramps can involve only a part of a muscle (few fibers of the muscle) or the whole muscle, or a few muscles that work together, for example, those that flex nearby fingers. Some cramps might involve the synchronous constriction of muscles that commonly move body parts in opposite directions.

These days muscle cramps are very common in people.1 More than 95 percent of the people encounter muscle cramps once in their life. They are more common in adults and become quite frequent with time. Sometimes, youngsters can also encounter a muscle cramp.

All those muscles which are under your voluntary control can have muscle cramps. The extreme muscle cramps involve the legs and feet, and most especially the calf. Involuntary muscles of various organs like, bowels, urine passages, uterus, bile, blood vessel, etc… can also have muscle cramps. This article is more focused on the voluntary muscle cramps.

Important Facts about Muscle Cramps

  • 50 percent of the common people in the United States face muscle cramps.
  • 95 percent of muscle cramps might include hamstrings, quads or calves.
  • A muscle cramp is a forcibly and involuntarily contracted muscle that does not unwind.
  • Almost everyone encounters a muscle camp sooner or later in their life.
  • There are various causes for muscle cramps and types of muscle cramps.
  • Muscle cramps may happen at rest, during exercise, at night, contingent on the definite cause.
  • Dehydration is one of the common causes of muscle cramps.
  • Numerous prescription medicines can cause muscle cramps.
  • Most muscle cramps can be halted if the muscle can be extended.
  • Muscle cramps can frequently be forestalled by measures, like, adequate nourishment and hydration, attention for well being when exercising, and paying attention to ergonomic components.

What are the Different Types of Muscle Cramps?

Skeletal muscle or voluntary muscle cramps can be distinguished into four major types. Cramps are classified by various causes and the muscle groups they affect. The types are:

True Cramps is a Type of Muscle Cramp

True cramps or true muscle cramps includes part of a single or the whole muscle or a group of muscles that act together, for example, the muscles that flex a few neighboring fingers.2 Most people agree that these can be caused by hyperexcitability of the nerves that empower the muscles. They are overwhelmingly the most well-known kind of skeletal muscle cramps. It can occur in a variety of circumstances like:

  • Injury can cause a true muscle cramp. Persistent muscle cramps may happen as a defensive mechanism following an injury, for example, a broken bone. In this case, the cramp stabilizes the area of injury and also minimizes the movement. Muscle Injury itself can cause a muscle to cramp.
  • Vigorous activity can lead to true muscle cramps. True cramps are generally connected with the overwhelming utilization of muscles and muscle fatigue. Such cramps may come amid the activity or later, may be a few hours later. Similarly, muscle fatigue from sitting or lying for a long period in a clumsy position or any repetitive use can bring about the cramps. Grown up adults are at a higher risk of having true muscle cramps while doing vigorous or strenuous physical exercises.
  • Rest Cramps. Cramps while resting are also common, particularly in older people, but can be experienced at any age, including adolescence. Rest muscle cramps commonly occur at night. They are not life threatening but can be quite painful and disrupt your sleep. They are also known as nocturnal cramps, and can repeat frequently. The real reason for night cramps is still not known. Some of the time, such issues are started by making a development that abbreviates the muscle. For example, pointing the toe down while lying in bed, which shortens/abbreviates the calf muscle, and can result in muscle cramps.
  • Dehydration can reason to muscle cramps. Sports and other vigorous activities might result in extreme liquid loss in the form of sweat. This sort of dehydration increases the probability of true cramps. These spasms will probably happen in warm climate and can be an early indication of heat stroke. Constant volume consumption of body liquids from diuretics and poor liquid admission, both lead to dehydration and may act comparatively to incline to cramps, particularly in older people. Depletion of sodium is also related to true muscle cramps. Loss of sodium can also be the result of dehydration.
  • Body fluid shifts can cause true muscle cramps. True cramps can also happen in other situations that feature a strange appropriation of body fluids. For instance, a disease of the liver, known as cirrhosis which prompts the collection of liquid in the abdominal cavity. In the same way, cramps are frequent side effect of rapid change in body fluids that happen during dialysis in case of kidney failure.
  • Low blood magnesium or calcium can cause true muscle cramps. Low blood levels of either calcium or magnesium specifically build the sensitivity of both the nerve endings and the muscles they empower. This might be an inclining element for the unconstrained true cramps experienced by numerous older people, and additionally for those muscle cramps that are regularly noted amid pregnancy. Low levels of calcium and magnesium are normal in pregnant ladies unless these minerals are supplemented in the eating routine. Muscle cramps are found in any situation that abatements the accessibility of calcium or magnesium in body liquids, for example, taking diuretics, extreme vomiting, hyperventilation, inadequate amount of calcium and/or magnesium in the eating regimen, poor function of the parathyroid glands, inadequate calcium absorption due to deficiency of vitamin D, and other conditions.
  • Low potassium can lead to true muscle cramps. If you have low potassium levels in your blood, it can cause muscle cramps, despite the fact that it is more common for low potassium to be connected with weakness in muscle.

Tetany is a Type of Muscle Cramp

In tetany, the greater part of the nerve cells in the body are activated, which stimulate the muscles.2 This response causes muscle cramps in the body. The name tetany is derived from the impact of the tetanus poison on the nerves. However, the name is now commonly used for muscle cramps from different conditions, for example, low blood levels of magnesium & calcium. Low magnesium and low calcium, which build the movement of nerve tissue non-specifically, additionally can create tetanic muscle cramps. These muscle cramps are often accompanied by evidence off hyperactivity of other nerve functions along with the stimulation of muscles. For example, low blood calcium not just causes muscle cramps of the muscles of the hands and wrists, but it can also cause a sensation of numbness as well as shivering around the mouth & few other regions.

Once in a while, tetanic muscle cramps are indistinct from true muscle cramps. The accompanying changes of sensation or other nerve functions that happens with tetany may not be obvious on the grounds that the cramp pain is concealing or diverting from it.

Contracture is Yet Another Type of Muscle Cramp

Contracture is a type of muscle cramp. A contracture is a scarring of the delicate tissues that muscle developments typically influence. When contracture occurs, the tissue that is involved in it cannot move entirely, whether the related muscles are relaxed or activated. This happens because the scarred tissue cannot move in response to the muscle movements. This prompts to a fixed body part which cannot have the full scope of movement. The most known sort of contracture happens in the palm of the hand and influences the tendons that mainly cause the fingers to close with gripping. Mostly this type of contracture affects the ring finger, which is known as the Dupuytren’s contracture of the hand.

Dystonic Cramps is the 4th Type of Muscle Cramp

The last classification is dystonic muscle cramps, in which muscles that are not required for the proposed movement are invigorated to contract.3 Muscles that are influenced by this kind of cramping include those that customarily work the other way of the planned movement, and/ or others that overstate the movement. Some dystonic muscle cramps mainly affects small group of muscles (like, larynx, neck, jaws, eyelids, and so on.). The hands and arms might get affected during the execution of repetitive exercises, for example, those connected with handwriting, playing certain musical instruments, typing and numerous others. In case of repeating these exercises, on can face true cramps as well as muscle tiredness. True muscle cramps are quite common as compared to dystonic muscle cramps, which are rarely seen in individuals.

What Causes Muscle Cramps?

Medicines Can Cause Muscle Cramps

Various medications can cause muscle cramps. Strong diuretic medicines, for example, furosemide (Lasix), or the energetic expulsion of body liquids, even with less intense diuretics, can result in muscle cramps, due to depletion of body fluids and sodium. At the same time, diuretics might cause the loss of potassium, magnesium and calcium which can result in causing muscle cramps.

Medicines like, neostigmine (prostigmine and others, utilized for myasthenia gravis), donepezil (aricept, utilized for alzheimer’s ailment), raloxifene (evista which is utilized to prevent osteoporosis in postmenopausal ladies) can cause muscle cramps. It has been reported that tolcapone (tasmar, utilized for parkinson’s illness) causes muscle cramps in at least 10 percent of the patients. True muscle cramps can occur with nifedipine (procardia and others, utilized for angina, hypertension and different conditions), albuterol (proventil, ventolin, and others), and the asthma drugs terbutaline (brethine). Some medications used to lower cholesterol, for example, lovastatin (mevacor), can likewise prompt muscle cramps.

Muscle cramps can be seen in addicted people during withdrawal from medicines and substances that have narcotic impacts, including barbiturates, liquor, and different tranquilizers, anti-anxiety agents like, narcotics, benzodiazepines, and different medications.

Muscle Cramps Caused Due to Vitamin Deficiency

A few vitamin insufficiency states may specifically or indirectly prompt muscle spasms. These incorporate lacks of thiamine (B1), pyridoxine (B6) and pantothenic acid (B5). The exact part of lack of these vitamins in creating spasms is obscure.

Too little potassium, magnesium and calcium in your eating regimen can add to leg muscle cramps. Diuretics, medicines frequently endorsed for hypertension, additionally can exhaust these minerals.

Muscle Cramps Caused Due to Poor Blood Circulation

Poor circulation of blood to certain parts of the body can cause muscle cramps. In case of poor circulation to the legs, there will be inadequate supply of oxygen for the muscle tissue, which can cause extreme torment in the muscle (sometimes known as intermittent claudication or claudication pain) that happens with strolling or work out. This generally happens in the calf muscles. While the agony feels indistinguishable to that of an extremely cramped muscle, the torment does not appear to be an after-effect of the real muscle cramping. This torment might be because of gathering of lactic acid and different chemicals in the muscle tissues. It is critical to see your specialist in the event that you have torment this way.

Nerve Compression Can Cause Muscle Cramps

Compression of nerves can reason to muscle cramps. Compression of nerves in your spine (lumbar stenosis) additionally can cause a muscle cramp-like pain in your legs. The agony gets even worse when you walk for a long time. Strolling in a marginally flexed position, for example, you would utilize when pushing a shopping basket in front of you, may enhance or postpone the onset of your manifestations.

Cold Temperatures Can Cause Muscle Cramps

Exposure to cold temperatures, particularly to icy water can also cause muscle cramps.

Strain on Muscles for Long Time Can Cause Muscle Cramps

Standing on a hard surface for quite a while, sitting for quite a while, or putting your legs in clumsy positions while you rest may cause muscle cramps.

Signs and Symptoms of Muscle Cramps

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Muscle Cramps?

Most of the times muscle cramps develop in the leg muscles, especially in the calf muscle. Other than the sudden, sharp torment, you may also feel a hard chunk of muscle tissue underneath your skin which is the major symptom of a muscle cramp.

When to see a Specialist for Muscle Cramps?

Muscle cramps mostly vanish on their own and rarely cause enough trouble, which requires medical care. Nonetheless, see your specialist in case your muscle cramps:

  • Cause extreme inconvenience.
  • Are connected with leg swelling, redness or skin changes.
  • Are connected with weakness of the muscle.
  • Happen much of the time or regularly.
  • Muscle cramps which do not enhance with self-care.
  • Muscle cramps which are not connected with an undeniable cause, for example, strenuous activity.

Your specialist will ask you questions for muscle cramps, like:

  • When did you notice the muscle cramps?
  • How continuous and extreme are these muscle cramps?
  • Does anything commonly go before your muscle cramps, for example, gentle to strenuous activity?
  • Do you ever have muscle cramps while resting or sleeping?
  • Does extending mitigate your muscle cramps?
  • Do you have different manifestations, for example, weakness in the muscle or numbness?
  • Have you saw changes in your pee after a workout?

What are the Risk Factors of Muscle Cramps?

Few factors that may increase your risk of having a muscle cramps includes:

  • Age is a risk factor for muscle cramps. Older people lose muscle mass, so the remaining muscle can get overemphasized effortlessly.
  • Dehydration is a major risk factor for muscle cramps. Sports person who get to be exhausted and got dried out while taking part in warm-climate sports frequently develops muscle cramps.
  • Pregnancy is also a possible factor of risk for muscle cramps. Muscle spasms likewise are regular amid pregnancy.
  • Some medical conditions put you at risk for muscle cramps. You may be at higher risk of muscle spasms if you have diabetes, or liver, nerve, or thyroid disorder.

Tests to Diagnose Muscle Cramps

There are no specific tests to diagnose muscle cramps. Your general physician should be able to diagnose the problem of muscle cramp based on the symptoms you explain and by looking and checking the area of muscle cramp. Typically, a muscle cramps is agonizing, sometimes severe as well. Mostly, the sufferer must stop whatever action is under way and look for help for the muscle cramps; the individual should not utilize the affected muscle while it is cramping. Severe muscle cramps might be connected with soreness and swelling, which can sometimes stay up to several days after the muscle cramps is gone. At the time of cramping, the tied muscle will swell, feel firm, and might be delicate.

There are no unique tests for spasms. But the diagnosis is quite easy. Most of the people are aware of what muscle cramps are and can identify when they have one.


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 16, 2024

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