A muscle cramp is a sudden, painful contraction of one or more muscles and is also commonly referred to as a charley horse. Muscle cramps commonly occur due to injury, strain or overuse of a muscle as well as dehydration. They may also be triggered by certain medical conditions such as inadequate blood supply, compression of nerves, pregnancy, kidney failure, hypothyroidism and depletion of certain minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Symptoms include a sudden sensation of uncontrollable pain in the muscle and formation of a hard lump of tissue beneath the skin.
Severe or persistent muscle cramps need to be evaluated by a doctor. Your doctor will conduct a thorough physical examination and may order blood tests to check the levels of potassium, calcium, kidney and thyroid function. An electromyography may be performed to check muscle activity and identify abnormalities. Myelography, an imaging study, may be ordered to evaluate the spine.
Regular muscle cramps can be managed by stretching exercises and applying hot and cold compresses such as ice, heating pad and drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated. If these measures do not work, your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication. Muscle relaxant medication may be prescribed for recurrent muscle cramps that interfere with sleep.