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Muscle Cramps: Care Instructions


A muscle cramp is when a muscle tightens up suddenly. A cramp often happens in the legs. A muscle cramp is also called a muscle spasm or a charley horse.

Muscle cramps usually last less than a minute. However, the pain may last for several minutes. Leg cramps that occur at night may wake you up.

Heavy exercise, dehydration, and being overweight can increase your risk of getting cramps. An imbalance of certain chemicals in your blood, called electrolytes, can also lead to muscle cramps. People who are pregnant sometimes get muscle cramps during sleep.

Muscle cramps can be treated by stretching and massaging the muscle. If cramps keep coming back, your doctor may prescribe medicine that relaxes your muscles.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Stretch your muscles every day, especially before and after exercise and at bedtime. Regular stretching can relax your muscles and may prevent cramps.
  • Do not suddenly increase the amount of exercise you get. Increase your exercise a little each week.
  • When you get a cramp, stretch and massage the muscle. You can also take a warm shower or bath to relax the muscle. A heating pad placed on the muscle can also help.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You get muscle cramps often that do not go away after home treatment.
  • Your muscle cramps often wake you up at night.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.