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Muscle cramps: Why do I keep getting them? What causes muscle cramps? What are some treatments?

Updated: Oct 5, 2022

What are cramps

Muscle cramps are sudden and involuntary contractions within muscle groups that temporarily inhibit the use of the affected muscle groups (and associated limb function) [1, 2].


Usually, the symptoms of cramps are well understood and experienced at least once in life.

Shooting pain in a localised area of your muscle.

Sometimes, this causes appendages (fingers or toes) associated with that area of the body to move too (for example, based on the contraction of the muscles, cramps in the foot can often cause the toes to move involuntarily; cramps in the calf can often cause involuntary movement of the foot, etc…)

Symptoms usually occur in the calf; however, cramps, by definition, can occur wherever there is a muscle in the body [1].

Causes of cramps

Often, the exact cause of cramps is unknown. Nevertheless, some risk factors for recurrent cramps are poor physical conditioning, mineral and electrolyte imbalances and tight, inflexible muscles.

However, some commonly occurring causes are detailed below:

Dietary deficiencies in electrolytes and minerals




Vascular (blood vessel) issues

Cancer and/or comorbidities

Therefore, identifying the cause of your cramps can help you target a method for treating your cramps.

Who is more at risk?

Those above the age of 65 have an increased risk for cramps.

Treatment of muscle cramps

  • Stretching before and after exercise [13]

  • Magnesium supplementation [14, 15]

  • Hydration [15]

  • Movement [16]

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[1] Kardalas E, Paschou SA, Anagnostis P, Muscogiuri G, Siasos G, Vryonidou A. Hypokalemia: a clinical update. Endocrine Connections. 2018;7(4):R135-R46.

[2] Bordoni B, Sugumar K, M. V. Muscle Cramps. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. 2022.

[3] Coërs C, Telerman-Toppet N, Cremer M. Acute quadriparesis with muscle spasms related to electrolyte disturbances in steatorrhea: Clinical and biochemical data. The American Journal of Medicine. 1972;52(6):849-56.

[4] Schwellnus MP. Cause of exercise associated muscle cramps (EAMC)--altered neuromuscular control, dehydration or electrolyte depletion? Br J Sports Med. 2009;43(6):401-8.

[5] Sebo P, Cerutti B, Haller DM. Effect of magnesium therapy on nocturnal leg cramps: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials with meta-analysis using simulations. Fam Pract. 2014;31(1):7-19.

[6] Bilbey DL, Prabhakaran VM. Muscle cramps and magnesium deficiency: case reports. Can Fam Physician. 1996;42:1348-51.

[7] Abe K. A Patient Developed Painful Muscle Cramps due to Overeating Mangos. Case Reports in Neurological Medicine. 2012;2012:1-2.

[8] Murray D, Miller KC, Edwards JE. Does a Reduction in Serum Sodium Concentration or Serum Potassium Concentration Increase the Prevalence of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps? Journal of Sport Rehabilitation. 2016;25(3):301-4.

[9] Maughan RJ, Shirreffs SM. Muscle Cramping During Exercise: Causes, Solutions, and Questions Remaining. Sports Medicine. 2019;49(S2):115-24.

[10] Thompson PD. Statin-Associated Myopathy. JAMA. 2003;289(13):1681.

[11] Miller TM, Layzer RB. Muscle cramps. Muscle & Nerve. 2005;32(4):431-42.

[12] Hiraoka A, Yoshiji H, Iwasa M, Nakanishi H, Karino Y, Nakajima T, et al. Clinical features of liver cirrhosis patients with muscle cramping: a multicenter study. European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2019;31(12):1557-62.

[13] Andersen JC. Stretching before and after exercise: effect on muscle soreness and injury risk. J Athl Train. 2005;40(3):218-20.

[14] Reichel G. [Muscle cramps--differential diagnosis and therapy]. Med Monatsschr Pharm. 2009;32(3):80-6.

[15] Kharait S. A Magnesium-Rich Electrolyte Hydration Mix Reduces Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps in Half-Marathon Runners. Journal of Exercise and Nutrition. 2022;5(3).

[16] Yang N-Y, Kim S-D. Effects of a Yoga Program on Menstrual Cramps and Menstrual Distress in Undergraduate Students with Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Single-Blind, Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2016;22(9):732-8.

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