Muscle cramp is a generally minor condition involving the sudden contraction of a muscle. This can occur all over the body and is very common among athletes. Most cramps do not require a doctor’s attention if you take care of the affected area.
You will experience a sharp pain from a muscle, which can feel like a contraction - tension in the muscle - or a spasm. There may be a tender bump in the affected area of muscle tissue where the muscle cells have failed to loosen.
Cramps are often caused by overuse, characterised by exercising for extended periods of time until muscles become fatigued and unfit for use, or suddenly beginning an excessive training program that places strenuous pressure on your muscles without gradual adjustment. Being dehydrated during activity can also lead to muscle cramps, especially in heat. Other common causes include nerve compression, temporary poor blood circulation or a lack of minerals in your diet.
On rare occasions a cramp can also be indicative of an existing injury or condition, including anaemia, kidney disorders and diabetes. If you suspect an underlying cause separate from ordinary muscle strain then you should consult a doctor immediately.
The injury is usually minor and heals itself, but you can assist the process through resting the affected muscle by ceasing stressful activity. You should gently stretch and rub the muscle to maintain sufficient motion and help it to relax. Holding the nearest joint in an extended position may also aid the muscle’s recovery. Ice the area, and in the event of pain apply heat using a heat pad, warm towel or simply by taking a bath. See a doctor if you suffer from repeated painful cramps that interfere with your daily routine or sleeping.
The precise cause of repeated muscle cramps is not always known, but there are plenty of measures you can take to lower their frequency. Always stretch thoroughly before and after any potentially strenuous sport or physical activity, giving your muscles the maximum chance to work efficiently without serious strain. Drink plenty of fluids, especially around a period of activity. It is important to replace the fluids you lose during training, as averting dehydration in this way will assist your muscles in contracting properly and avoid muscle irritation.
Do not train with fatigued muscles, and if you wish to increase a training program do so incrementally, taking gradual steps in order to accustom your muscles to greater stress. Warm up correctly in all necessary parts of the body, particularly muscles vulnerable to cramps such as the hamstring, the quadriceps and the calf muscle.