The normal function of many muscles in your body is to alternately contract and relax to move a limb or maintain posture. When a muscle suddenly and involuntarily sustains a forceful contraction the condition is known as a muscle cramp, aka Charlie horse. In contrast, a muscle spasm is involuntary contractions that are not as forcibly sustained. And some spasms lead to cramps.
A muscle cramp causes a palpable hard lump of stabbing pain that can render that muscle useless. And it can take several minutes before a cramped muscle relaxes. Leg, calf and toe cramps are relatively common, usually occur in association with exercise or at night, and are typically harmless in the aftermath to a muscle.
Now on to the many causes of muscle cramps. The precise cause for why a Charlie horse occurs has not been definitively determined, yet here’s some of the many theoretical causes:
- bone spurs
- muscle strain
- muscle fatigue
- heat exhaustion
- adverse reaction to anticoagulants
- holding muscle is a position for too longed
- nerve compression, pinched nerve, spinal stenosis
- inadequate blood supply ~ arteriosclerosis, PAD, varicose veins
- mineral depletion of potassium, calcium, magnesium due to poor diet
- drug side effect ~ diuretics, opiates, steroids, NSAIDs, analgesics, beta blockers, antidiuretic
- certain health conditions ~ diabetes, hypoglycemia, anemia, hypothyroidism, kidney failure, metabolic issues, Parkinson’s
Treatment for muscle cramps is stretching and massaging the contracted muscle. And always let your health care provider know if your cramps occur frequently and these contractions fail to relax in a reasonable time.