Muscle cramps (muscle cramps)


Muscle cramps are triggered locally. These cramps belong to the more general concept of “muscle contracture” or muscle spasm. However, in medicine, the term “muscle contracture” is relatively unclear.1 . Calf muscle cramp is one of the most common cramps. Cramps at the lumbar level, which are very muscular contractures, will not be dealt with in this dossier, as it is believed that they may originate at a central level and not just at a local level. We distinguish the athlete’s cramp from the nocturnal cramp, which usually occurs during sleep. Cramps are relatively frequent in pregnant women and sportspeople, as these groups of people are more frequently
deficient in minerals (magnesium

In rare cases, cramps can be more severe (vascular or metabolic origin). Therefore, if they occur regularly even with the use of medicine to combat them, consult a doctor.


It is estimated that up to 95% of adults experience cramps at some point in their lives.


Muscle Cramps
The causes of sportsman’s cramps remain quite mysterious. It has long been thought that the cramps found in athletes are due to dehydration; this hypothesis remains possible. But in recent years, research has suggested that cramps don’t really affect the muscles, but the nerves. These sometimes send the wrong message to the muscles, which leads to cramps. That’s why scientists who have studied the subject, such as Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry Rod MacKinnon, recommend drinking spicy drinks like ginger or wasabi to prevent cramps. The aim is to get a “shock” to the nervous system, to disturb the body and lessen the cramps. Read more about this below under Treatments.

Night cramps
In the case of night cramps, we still don’t know their exact causes. What we do know is that with age the incidence of this type of cramp increases. About 75% of muscle cramps occur at night.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a serious and rare neurological disease that can lead to muscle cramps.

Statins can lead to muscle side effects, leading in particular to muscle cramps.


Muscle cramps are characterized by a sudden painful contracture, for example, after physical exertion (during the practice of a sport) or during sleep at night.

Cramps last from a few seconds to 15 minutes (sometimes longer) and then disappear, the consequences are rarely serious, but the pain can be very severe during the cramp crisis.

The consequences are rarely serious, but the pain can be very severe during a cramping attack. Always be attentive and ask your doctor for advice in case of diabetes, nervous diseases, after using medication or if they are frequent.


As almost always in medicine it is first necessary to try to find the cause (eg origin due to a metabolism disease, a cardiovascular disorder), if this is not the case for you, you can:

– Get a massage (see other tips for treating muscle cramps).

– If cramps recur, use muscle relaxants such as tetrazepam or tizanidine. Attention, these are medications that must be prescribed by a doctor and can cause drowsiness.
The use of centrally acting muscle relaxants usually sold by prescription, such as tetrazepam, tizanidine, baclofen, tolperisone or methocarbamol, are not recommended for local cramps, such as in the calf2 . However, these drugs can be used if necessary in muscle contractures in the lower back.

– In case of frequent nocturnal cramps, the doctor may prescribe quinine-based remedies (eg sold in the form of quinine sulphate), an anti-malarial drug that can have a positive effect against cramps.

However, some scientists question the effectiveness of quinine and mainly highlight the health risk of this molecule. The leading French journal Prescrire   periodically publishes a list of drugs marketed in France and in the European Union, but which should be avoided due to the unfavorable risk-benefit ratio. Quinine, found in the 2017 Prescrire list  , would in fact not be more effective than placebo, in addition to causing serious, sometimes fatal, side effects, such as anaphylactic reactions and hematological disorders.

– If cramps occur regularly, also look for preventative treatments.

– If the cramps occur regularly, it is also possible to use preventive medicines. As we saw in the description of the causes, more and more specialists advise drinking spicy drinks, for example ginger or wasabi, before playing sports. In the USA there is a brand called Hotshot, a spicy drink made with ginger , cinnamon and pepper (like, for example, chili pepper ) indicated precisely to avoid sports cramps. You can also prepare a ginger juice .

– Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as  ibuprofen , do not act on the muscle, but they can act against pain during cramps. The problem is that relief is usually not immediate, as NSAIDs usually take 1 hour to take effect.

natural treatments

A cream containing menthol can also help relieve pain during muscle cramps.

therapy tips

– In case of cramp, we advise you to take the tip of the foot and pull it very hard upwards. You can also lean the sole of your foot against a wall to help the cramp pass.

– It is possible to apply a thermal bag over the cramp, this will help to relax the muscle. It is possible to use a hot water bottle. The heat application should last for 5 to 10 minutes and then stretch the muscle .


– Try magnesium -based preparations , as this mineral has a strong preventive effect on muscle cramps. Try it for example for a month. Cramps experienced by athletes or pregnant women are generally linked to a lack of magnesium.

– Potassium can also have a preventive effect on cramps.

– A healthy diet rich in minerals such as magnesium and calcium can help prevent cramps. Some examples: soy germ , rice, bread, walnut.

– Drink plenty of water, magnesium-rich water if possible. It is known that muscles need a lot of water to contract properly. If you hydrate well, you can mainly avoid night cramps.

– Do regular physical exercise, such as walking, to activate blood circulation. Physical exercise also reduces muscle fatigue, the main factor in cramps.

– Athletes should do a good warm-up to avoid muscle cramps as much as possible.

– As soon as you feel a cramp, stop exercising or playing sports.

– As can be seen above under Treatments, the ingestion of spicy drinks before sports practice has a significant preventive effect.

– A small scientific study carried out on elderly people showed that taking 3 times a day food supplements based on vitamin B complex for 3 months, reduced leg cramps in 86% of participants. Intake of vitamin B-complex decreased not only the cramps, but also their duration.

Jeanne Kenney
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I’m a stylist trainer, a content creator, and an entrepreneur passion. Virgo sign and Pisces ascendant, I move easily between my dreams, the crazy world I want, and my feet on the ground to carry out my projects.

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