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What Causes Muscle Cramps And Fatigue

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What Causes Muscle Spasms

Muscle Cramps: Fatigue or electrolyte deficiency

Idiopathic means that the exact cause is unknown, and thats the case with muscle spasms. Some experts believe that one of more of the following may be to blame in most cases:

  • Not enough stretching.

Possible causes for nocturnal leg cramps , specifically, include:

  • Sitting for long periods of time.
  • Overusing the muscles.
  • Standing or working on concrete floors.
  • Sitting improperly.

Risk Factors For Exercise

Although EAMC has been observed in both training and competition in almost every type of sport, it does seem from the surveys cited above to be more associated with endurance-type activities and in team sports. An analysis of the evidence of cramp among American football players showed that the great majority occurred during periods of hot weather: EAMC occurred most often during the first 3 weeks of practice, when fitness and acclimation levels are likely to be lowest and when the training load is often the highest . The incidence of heat cramps was 37% during the first week of the training camp, then 27%, 18% and 4% in the succeeding weeks. Notwithstanding these observations, the incidence of EAMC may also be high in endurance events taking place in cool or cold environments: Maughan found that 15 of 92 runners experienced cramp during a single marathon race taking place at 1012 °C . Most cases occurred in the later stages of the race, after an average of 35 km had been completed: no cases were reported to have occurred before 24 km, and 5 of the 15 instances occurred during the last 1.5 km.

What Is Kidney Failure

Kidney failure means that the kidneys have lost some of the capacity they have to filtrate the constituents in the plasma, the watery part of the blood. Conditions that can cause a decrease in this filtration capacity of the kidneys are:

  • A fall in blood pressure
  • A blockage of the blood that goes to the kidneys
  • A blockage of the urine outflow
  • Disease of the kidneys
  • Kidney failure can be acute or chronic

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What Is Muscle Spasms

A muscle spasm is a sudden, involuntary contraction of a muscle. It usually happens when youre resting and may be accompanied by a snapping noise or a feeling that the bone has been jarred. Muscle spasms can range from mild to very painful and are often described as feeling like electric shocks going through the muscle.

Prevention Of Muscle Cramps

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Measures to prevent cramps include the following:

  • Not exercising immediately after eating

  • Gently stretching the muscles before exercising or going to bed

  • Drinking plenty of fluids after exercise

  • Not consuming stimulants

  • Not smoking

The runnerâs stretch is most useful. A person stands with one leg forward and bent at the knee and the other leg behind and the knee straightâa lunge position. The hands can be placed on the wall for balance. Both heels remain on the floor. The knee of the front leg is bent further until a stretch is felt along the back of the other leg. The greater the distance between the two feet and the more the front knee is bent, the greater the stretch. The stretch is held for 30 seconds and repeated 5 times. The set of stretches is repeated on the other side.

Most of the drugs often prescribed to prevent cramps are not recommended. Most have no demonstrated efficacy. Quinine has been effective in some trials but is no longer recommended because of occasional serious adverse effects . Mexiletine sometimes helps, but whether using it is worth the risk of adverse effects is unclear. These effects include nausea, vomiting, heartburn, dizziness, and tremor.

Some athletic coaches and physicians recommend pickle juice for muscle cramping, but data concerning its efficacy are insufficient.

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Etiology Of Muscle Cramps

The most common types of leg cramps are

  • Benign idiopathic leg cramps

  • Exercise-associated muscle cramping

Although almost everyone has muscle cramps at some time, certain factors increase the risk and severity of cramps. They include the following:

  • Tight calf muscles

  • Dehydration

  • Pain or loss of sensation in a peripheral nerve, plexus, or root distribution

Should You Be Concerned

While muscle twitches can be annoying and uncomfortable, they do usually not cause concern. However, if you have a persistent or severe twitch, or if its accompanied by other symptoms such as pain, swelling, or fever, then you should see your doctor rule out any underlying medical conditions.

Treatment options will vary depending on the underlying cause but may include medication, physical therapy, or surgery in some cases. Make sure you follow your doctors instructions carefully to help get rid of your muscle spasms and restore your quality of life.

So, what causes muscle twitching? While the cause can vary from person to person, there are several possible reasons for this annoying phenomenon. Some of these include nerve damage, an electrolyte imbalance, carpal tunnel syndrome, vitamin B12 deficiency, anemia, low blood sugar, overexertion, and a hip flexor.

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What Causes Exercise Associated Cramps

In the research world there are essentially two competing theories of what causes Exercise Associated Muscle Cramp…

Image credit: Desiree N. Palacios via JBSA©.

The âDehydration/Electrolyte Theoryâ

This theory is probably the oldest. It speculates that a significant disturbance in fluid or electrolyte balance, usually due to a reduction in total body exchangeable sodium stores, causes a contraction of the interstitial fluid compartment around muscles and a misfiring of nerve impulses, leading to cramp.

In simpler terms, if you lose a lot of sodium and donât replace it it can cause fluid shifts in the body that in turn causes cramps.

This theory is predominantly based on plenty of case studies, observational data, anecdote and expert opinion . So, although thereâs a decent amount of circumstantial weight behind it, it lacks the more âconcrete proofâ of data from large scale randomised controlled trials which is rightly considered necessary by proponents of evidence-based practice for it to be widely accepted as anything approaching âfactâ.

Having said that, a lab-based study found that the severity of cramps experienced by athletes were reduced when theyâd taken a sodium rather than a placebo drink, whilst a 2021 study found that participants who drank water containing electrolytes were less likely to develop muscle cramps after a workout.

The âNeuromuscular Theoryâ

Muscle Cramps Vs Muscle Spasms

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There are three types of muscles in your body. Cardiac muscle makes up your heart. Smooth muscle cells line your blood vessels, gastrointestinal tract, and certain organs. Skeletal muscles attach to your bones and are used for voluntary movements of the body. Muscle spasms occur when a skeletal muscle contracts and does not relax. Muscle spasms are forceful and involuntary. A sustained muscle spasm is called a muscle cramp. Leg muscles, especially the quadriceps , hamstrings , and gastrocnemius , are most likely to cramp, but any skeletal muscle in the body can cramp. A “charley horse” is another name for a muscle cramp.

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Medications That Cause Muscle Cramps

High blood pressure medications, insulin, birth control pills, cholesterol-lowering medications, and certain types of asthma medications may cause muscle cramps. These medications cause cramps by a variety of mechanisms. They may interfere with electrolyte levels, contribute to the breakdown of muscle tissue, or interfere with blood flow. Report medication-related muscle cramps to your doctor.

Moves For Hand Cramp And Spasm Relief

What should you do when a muscle cramp strikes? Try these DIY fixes:

  • Gentle Stretching To help the cramp subside, try this simple stretch. Using the opposite hand, push back all four fingers and thumb on the cramping hand, very lightly, and massage the tight muscle.
  • Heat A heat wrap can also help tame tight muscles, but don’t worry if you dont have one at the ready simply run your hands under warm water instead. Or improvise by making your own warm compress: Fill a tube sock with uncooked rice, tie a knot at the top, and warm it in the microwave for about a minute, Weselman suggests.

Its also possible that certain medications may indirectly help ease muscle cramping by treating inflammation, she explains.

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Another treatment that might provide relief is virtual reality telehealth, which involves video sessions with a virtual reality headset that helps you to incorporate a personalized treatment plan for your specific health issues. You may also want to try VibraCool, which is a wearable device that directs either heat or coolness, combined with vibration, to areas where you feel pain.

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Common Causes Of Muscle Cramps And How To Treat Them

Medically reviewed

All of Healthily’s articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

If youve ever suffered from a muscle cramp, youll know that they can be very painful. You will also know that they can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, and often seem to strike out of the blue.

In fact, most cramps occur while were sleeping, while were exercising, or while were relaxing in bed at night.

The good news is that most muscle cramps are rarely a cause for concern. It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause, but frequent triggers include:

  • Muscle fatigue from exercise
  • Temporary electrolyte imbalance

There are many other causes of muscle cramps including pregnancy, poor circulation, side effects of certain medications and cirrhosis.

If youre experiencing intermittent muscle cramps, you can read below about things you can do to help reduce the pain and relax your muscles.

Muscle Cramp Associated With Medical Conditions

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Certain diseases or conditions may increase the risk of muscle cramp, including:

  • Atherosclerosis a condition characterised by narrowed arteries due to the formation of fatty plaques. Muscles are more likely to cramp if their blood supply is inadequate.
  • Sciatica pain in the buttock and leg caused by pressure on nerves in the lower back. In some cases, the irritated nerve may prompt the associated muscles to contract.
  • Medications some medical conditions require the regular use of fluid pills . These drugs can interfere with the bodys mineral balance and contribute to cramping.

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Muscle Cramps Are Bodys Signal That Something Is Missing

Fatigue, dehydration and loss of minerals may be the root cause

FRANKLIN, Ohio That sudden, sharp muscle spasm that has the power to wake you up in the middle of the night may be a sign that your body is lacking something.

Muscle cramps can happen at any time of day and in nearly every area of the body, but perhaps the most commonly experienced muscle cramp is a charley horse. A charley horse is an involuntary contraction of a muscle that a person can experience in their arm or leg. According to one local physician, it is usually the bodys sign that its running low on sleep, water or key minerals.

From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that a charley horse is a severe cramping that just doesnt let up, said Joshua Ordway, MD, a family physician with Franklin Family Practice. You want the pain to release quickly, but it often lasts for seconds which can feel like an eternity and feels like a hard ball.

Anyone is susceptible to getting a muscle spasm, said Dr. Ordway, who practices with Premier Physician Network.

People of all ages can experience muscle spasms, he said. A little kid who is playing pee-wee football and becomes dehydrated can experience it. And, by the same token, an adult who overdoes it one day with physical activity, may cause muscle fatigue, and have a muscle spasm.

For more information on muscle spasms or to find a Premier Physician Network physician near you, visit here.

What To Expect At Your Office Visit

The provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your medical history and symptoms.

Blood and urine tests may be done. Tests may include:

  • Potassium, calcium and magnesium levels.
  • Vitamin D levels .
  • Nerve conduction and electromyography tests may be ordered to determine if nerve or muscle disease is present.

Treatment depends on the cause of the spasms. For example, if they are due to dehydration, your provider will likely suggest you to drink more fluids. Some studies suggest that certain medicines and vitamins may help.

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Drink Water But Start Drinking Before You Begin Exercising

Water will not help after muscle cramps have already started. A study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport revealed that water intake after dehydration and during exercise make muscles more susceptible to cramping, most likely due to a dilution of electrolytes. However, when consuming fluid containing electrolytes, the susceptibility to muscle cramps decreases. Which leads to treatment #2.

Muscle Damage Through Injury

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There are many ways in which your muscles can be directly damaged. The most obvious is injury or trauma such as sporting injuries, pulls and sprains. In any muscle injury, bleeding from damaged muscle fibres occurs inside the muscle, followed by swelling and inflammation. This makes the muscle less strong and also painful to use. Localised pain is the primary symptom but weakness also results.

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Treatment Options For Muscle Cramp

Most muscle cramps resolve after a few seconds or minutes. There has been very little research done to work out which treatment works best but treatment options include:

  • Stretch and massage lengthen the cramping muscle using a gentle, sustained stretch then lightly massage the area until the cramp subsides. If you are unsure how to stretch leg muscles, see your physiotherapist for advice.
  • Icepack in cases of severe cramp, an icepack applied for a few minutes may help the muscle to relax.
  • Medication some medications can be helpful to control muscle cramps. See your doctor for further information.
  • Further treatment see your doctor if you experience regular muscle cramping or if cramps last longer than a few minutes. You may have an undiagnosed medical condition that requires treatment.

Stop Hand Cramps Before They Start

Better yet, aim to prevent muscle cramps in the first place. Keeping hand muscles strong will help prevent muscle fatigue, so exercises can decrease cramps long term, Weselman explains. Try repetitive finger tapping , or squeezing silly putty or a stress ball.

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If muscle cramps or hand pain persists, occurs often, or interferes with everyday activities, talk with your doctor, who can look for signs of underlying causes such as poor circulation, dehydration, poor nutrition, kidney disease, or electrolyte imbalances due to medication. In some cases, muscle atrophy could be related to injury, muscle abnormality, or a neurological condition.

Additional reporting by Jessica Firger.

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Other Symptoms Of Renal Failure

Loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting are common symptoms of severe kidney failure. They usually appear when the blood urea concentration gets quite high, but some changes in appetite, particularly an aversion to meat, can occur much earlier.

  • Easy bruising: Easy bruising is a sign of severe kidney failure but can also be a symptom in patients with quite mild kidney failure. Although some people have the tendency to bruise easily, in severe cases of kidney failure, the forearms and hands may become mottled with bruises. It reflects the fragility of the capillaries.
  • Itching: Patients with relatively severe kidney failure complain of dry skin. Itching usually appears however when loss of kidney function is severe and anemia seems to trigger itching. Conventional medicine is not too effective at reducing itching in patients with kidney failure. Lack of vitamin B12 can cause both anemia and skin problems such as itching and eczema.
  • Voiding frequently at night: This is caused because the kidneys lose their ability to retain the urine for too long.
  • Numbness and tingling: Numbness and tingling usually happens in the hands and feet due to nerve damage caused from uremia, a high volume of urea in the urine.
  • Other symptoms of renal failure include thirst, headache, a bad taste in the mouth, somnolence, insomnia, twitching or restless legs, difficulty concentrating, impaired memory, diarrhea and constipation
  • Signs And Symptoms Of Potassium Deficiency

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    Potassium is an essential mineral that has many roles in your body. It helps regulate muscle contractions, maintain healthy nerve function and regulate fluid balance.

    However, a national survey found that approximately 98% of Americans are not meeting the recommended potassium intake. A Western diet is likely to blame, as it favors processed foods over whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts (

    That said, a low-potassium diet is rarely the cause of potassium deficiency, or hypokalemia. Deficiency is characterized by a blood potassium level below 3.5 mmol per liter .

    Instead, it occurs when your body suddenly loses a lot of fluid. Common causes include chronic vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating and blood loss (

    Here are 8 signs and symptoms of potassium deficiency.

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    Muscle Cramps At Night

    Muscle cramps at night, especially in the calves, are very common and affect up to 60% of adults. Women are more likely to suffer from nocturnal leg cramps than men. They are also more common with age and contribute to insomnia. Muscle fatigue and nerve dysfunction are believed to contribute to nocturnal leg cramps. Management of nocturnal leg cramps may include stretching, massage, and treatment of any underlying disorders that contribute to the condition.

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