Muscle Spasms, Cramps, and Charley Horse
You could be out for a run or drifting off to sleep when it happens: The muscles of your calf or foot suddenly become hard, tight, and extremely painful. You are having a muscle cramp.
Sometimes called charley horses -- particularly when they are in the calf muscles -- cramps are caused by muscle spasms, involuntary contractions of one or more muscles. In addition to the foot and calf muscles, other muscles prone to spasms include the front and back of the thigh, the hands, arms, abdomen, and muscles along the rib cage.
Almost everyone experiences muscle cramps, which come without warning. What causes them, and what can you do to relieve them?
Possible Causes of Muscle Cramps
Muscle cramps can have many possible causes. They include:
Muscle cramps can also occur as a side effect of some drugs. Medications that can cause muscle cramps include:
Lasix (furosemide), Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide), and other diuretics ("water pills") used to remove fluid from the body
Aricept (donepezil), used to treat Alzheimer's disease
- Prostigmine (neostigmine), used for myasthenia gravis
Procardia (nifedipine), a treatment for angina and high blood pressure
Evista (raloxifene), an osteoporosis treatment
Brethine (terbutaline), Proventil and Ventolin (albuterol), asthma medications
Tasmar (tolcapone), a medication used to treat Parkinson's disease
- Statin medications for cholesterol such as Crestor (rosuvastatin), Lescol (fluvastatin), Lipitor (atorvastatin), Mevacor (lovastatin), Pravachol (pravastatin), or Zocor (simvastatin)
Treatment of a Muscle Spasm
When muscle cramps occur, there are several things you can do to help ease them, such as massaging, stretching, or icing the muscle, warming the muscle, or taking a bath with Epsom salt.
For a charley horse in the calf or a cramp in the back of the thigh (hamstring), try putting your weight on the affected leg and bending your knee slightly, or sit or lie down with your leg out straight and pull the top of your foot toward your head. For a cramp in the front of the thigh (quadriceps), hold onto a chair to steady yourself and pull your foot back toward your buttock.