Coping with Muscle Cramps

Has a muscle cramp woken you up in the middle of the night? Or have you been stopped in your tracks by a spasm the size of a golf ball in your calf? Muscle cramps, or “charley horses,” occur when one or more of the muscles in the leg tighten involuntarily. Usually, the muscle relaxes in less than 10 minutes. Almost everyone has muscle cramps at some point, but certain conditions increase the risk and/or severity of cramps.

Muscle cramps often go away without any treatment, but the affected area may feel sore or tender the next day. Here are a few tips recommended by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, to help relieve a cramp:

• Stop the activity that causes the muscle cramps

• Stretch or massage the muscle until the cramp goes away

• Apply ice to sore muscles

• Apply heat to tense, tight muscles

Michael Levin, MD, at the University of Saskatchewan, writes that prevention is the best medicine when it comes to muscle cramps. He offers these tips to help prevent a cramp:

• Do not exercise right after eating

• Before exercising or going to bed, do some gentle stretching

• Do not consume caffeine

• Not smoking

• After exercising, drink plenty of fluids (particularly sports beverages that contain potassium)

If cramps are disrupting sleep, becoming severe, lasting longer, or accompanied by swelling, redness, or feeling of warmth, contact a primary care provider.


Muscle cramps. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. [cited 2022 Mar 04]. Available from:–conditions/muscle-cramps

Levin, M. MD. Muscle Cramps. Merck Manual. 2001 Aug. [cited 2022 Mar 04]. Available from:,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/symptoms-of-brain-spinal-cord-and-nerve-disorders/muscle-cramps#

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