Muscle cramps

  • Definition

    Muscle cramps are involuntary and often painful movements (contractions) of the muscles.

    The most commonly involved muscle groups are:

    • Back of the lower leg/calf (gastrocnemius)
    • Back of the thigh (hamstrings)
    • Front of the thigh (quadriceps)

    Cramps in the feet, hands, arms, abdomen, and along the rib cage are also very common.

    Alternative Names

    Cramps - muscle


    Muscle cramps are common and may be stopped by stretching the muscle. The cramping muscle may feel hard or bulging.

    Muscle spasms are different than muscle twitches, which are covered in a separate article.

    Common Causes

    Muscle cramps often occur when a muscle is overused or injured. Working out when you haven't had enough fluids (you're dehydrated) or when you have low levels of minerals such as potassium or calcium can also make you more likely to have a muscle spasm.

    Muscle cramps can occur while you play tennis or golf, bowl, swim, or do any other exercise.

    Muscle spasms can also be brought on by the following conditions:

    • Alcoholism
    • Hypothyroidism
    • Kidney failure
    • Medications
    • Metabolic problems
    • Pregnancy