Remedies for Muscle Cramps

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 14, 2020

Muscle cramps are a common problem that many people experience from time to time.

When one, part of one, or more than one of your muscles feels like it’s contracting or getting tight without any voluntary action from you — and you can’t get them to relax — that’s a muscle cramp. Muscle cramps happen for a few different reasons, but most commonly when muscles can’t relax properly.

Apart from the pain, you can tell that a muscle is cramping when it feels hard or it looks like it’s bulging. There are several parts of your body where you’re most likely to get muscle cramps:

  • Abdomen
  • Arms
  • Feet
  • Hamstrings or the back of your thighs
  • Hands
  • Quadriceps or the front of your thighs
  • The back of your calves or lower legs

Older adults, people with nerve disorders, people who are pregnant or menstruating, and people who overuse or strain their muscles are more likely to develop muscle cramps. Other causes of muscle cramping include:

  • Dehydration
  • Staying in one position for a long time
  • Mineral deficiencies, sometimes caused by taking diuretics

If you’re not getting enough magnesium and potassium in your diet, that could trigger muscle cramps.

Remedies and Treatments for Muscle Cramps

There are many ways to treat muscle cramps from home, including steps you can take to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Most types of muscle cramps don’t require medical attention and go away in a few seconds or minutes. However, these muscle cramp remedies can help you feel better and get back to your normal routine. 

Stretch It Out

When a muscle cramp hits, you should stop doing the activity that’s causing it and stretch it out. This is one of the best ways to get immediate relief from muscle cramps. Keep in mind that it’s important to stretch before and after you exercise, as well.

You can stretch the cramped muscle and gently rub and massage it to help it relax. If you have a calf cramp or charley horse, stand up and put your weight on the leg with the cramp and gently bend your knee. With a cramped leg, sit on the floor with your leg or foot stretched out in front of you. Keep your leg straight while you gently pull your foot back towards you.

Massage the Muscle

After stretching, you should consider massag ing the muscle cramp for relief. Using a roller or simply your hands, gently massage the muscles to loosen them up.

Apply Heat

Along with stretching, another of the important muscle cramp remedies is heat application. Applying heat soon after spasming starts can help soothe the pain that comes with muscle cramp since it helps the muscle loosen up. To do this, you can take a warm bath or shower. You can also apply a heating pad or a warm towel directly to the tense muscle.

Apply Cold

Applying cold is another great way to treat muscle cramps. Once the pain subsides a little after heat application, you can grab an ice pack or a bag of ice and put it on the cramping muscle. Remember to wrap the ice in a towel. You can also try massaging the cramp with the ice pack to loosen up the muscle.

Elevate If Possible

If your muscle cramp is in an area that you can elevate, like your leg or foot, prop it up. Keep it positioned this way until the cramp starts to subside.

Drink Water

A way to get relief from muscle cramps before they even begin is to drink enough water. Dehydration often plays a part in muscle cramps, so drinking enough water throughout the day can help keep them at bay.

Drinking fluids while you have a cramp helps the muscles contract and relax. When you keep hydrated, your muscle cells also stay hydrated and are less irritable or uncomfortable.

Take a Painkiller

If your muscle cramp continues and requires more than topical home remedies, take a common painkiller like ibuprofen or paracetamol

When to See a Doctor

In most cases, muscle cramps are very brief and don’t require medical attention. However, you may want to speak with your doctor if:

  • You experience severe pain along with your muscle cramps.
  • Muscle cramping doesn’t go away after stretching and other home remedies.
  • You get muscle cramps regularly and often.
  • Your muscle cramps last a long time before subsiding.

Your doctor will see if there could be another cause for the muscle cramps that are being overlooked. Muscle cramps that are severe and recurring could be a sign of a circulatory problem or an issue with metabolism, nerves, medications, or nutrition.

Show Sources


American Osteopathic Association: “Coping with muscle cramps: Why you don’t have to live with this common pain.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Leg Cramps: Management and Treatment.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Muscle Cramps: Care and Treatment.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Muscle Cramps: Possible Causes.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Take that, muscle cramps!”

Mayo Clinic: “Muscle cramp - Diagnosis & treatment.”

Mayo Clinic: “Muscle cramp - Symptoms & causes.”

MedlinePlus: “Muscle cramps.”

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