Skip to Content

Muscle Cramp


A muscle cramp is a sudden, sharp pain or spasm in a muscle. It lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes. Muscle cramps most often occur in your legs or feet. They are also common along your ribcage and in your arms and hands.


Manage a muscle cramp:

Muscle cramps often go away without any treatment. You can do the following to help relieve a cramp:

  • Stop the activity that caused the muscle cramp.
  • Stretch or massage your muscle until the cramp goes away.
  • Apply ice to sore muscles. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel, and place it on your sore muscles for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Ice decreases swelling and pain.
  • Apply heat to tense, tight muscles for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.

Prevent a muscle cramp:

  • Stretch your muscles. Stretch 3 times daily, including before bedtime and before exercise. Stretch briefly, and then release each stretch. Do not stretch so far that you feel pain. Daily stretches will relax your muscles and increase flexibility. Ask your healthcare provider for instructions on muscle stretches that are right for you.
  • Warm up before you exercise. Run in place slowly or walk at a brisk pace to warm your muscles.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Liquids can help prevent muscle cramps caused by dehydration. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. You may need to drink liquids that replace lost electrolytes, such as sports drinks.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods may help prevent muscle cramps. Healthy foods include bananas, beans, avocados, or other foods high in electrolytes. Ask if you should eat more carbohydrates.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • Your cramp does not go away, even after you stretch and apply ice or heat.
  • You have muscle cramps often.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • You cannot urinate, or your urine is dark yellow or brown within 24 hours of the cramp.
  • You have pain in your neck or back.
  • Your arm or leg is weak or numb, or the area around your cramp is numb.
  • You have trouble moving your cramped muscle.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.