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Muscle Cramp & Spasm

Brad Walker explains the causes, prevention, and treatment for muscle cramps and spasms.

Muscle cramps and spasms are annoying conditions that involve a sudden, involuntary contraction and tightening of a muscle that will not immediately relax. They can include part or all of a muscle or several muscles within a muscle group, and although a spasm or cramp can occur in about any muscle, the most common muscle groups affected are:

  • The lower leg and calf muscles
  • The upper leg, including both the hamstrings and quadriceps
  • The feet and hands

Muscle cramps and spasms can range in intensity from a slight twitch to a severe, agonizing unbearable contraction. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to over 15 minutes and can usually be seen visibly by how the muscle twitches and moves under the skin.

Who does it affect most?

People who are at the greatest risk of muscle cramps and spasms are ill, overweight, or unfit. Those who take drugs or certain medication and those who live or work in excessive heat and humidity are also prone to cramping. Muscle cramps are also common among endurance athletes and people over 65 who perform strenuous physical activity.

What Causes Muscle Cramps and Spasms?

Several factors contribute to muscle cramps and spasms, the main ones being:

Several other factors include working or exercising in high heat and humidity, inadequate blood supply, injury or muscle strain, and excessive alcohol, drugs, and medication use.

Treating Muscle Cramps and Spasms

Muscle cramps and spasms will usually go away on their own, but you can take a few crucial steps to decrease the severity and duration of them.

  • Stop the activity that triggered the cramp in the first place
  • Gently stretch the affected muscle or muscle group
  • Keep the affected areas moving with light activity and gentle massage
  • Continue to apply heat and massage to help promote blood flow

Preventing Muscle Cramps and Spasms

One of the most useful things you can do to help prevent muscle cramps and spasms is to improve your overall general health and fitness. Improving your cardiovascular fitness will improve your muscles' blood delivery, which will ensure that they have adequate amounts of oxygen and nutrients to function correctly.

Another critical activity that will help to prevent cramps and spasms is stretching. Keeping your muscles loose and flexible will help to stop them from tightening up and cramping. Be sure to stretch the muscle groups that are most prone to cramping both before and after exercise or strenuous physical activity.

The other important activity that is very effective in preventing cramps is ensuring adequate hydration and electrolyte replenishment. In general, you should be consuming at least 8 to 10 glasses of filtered water a day and more if you are involved in strenuous physical activity or live and work in high heat and humidity.

If you are prone to muscle cramps and spasms, you should also increase your intake of minerals, and electrolytes. The most important minerals are Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium. Adding a small amount of mineral salt to your cooking, (such as sea salt or Celtic salt) will help to increase your intake of these important minerals.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • WALKER, B. (2007) Muscle Cramp & Spasm. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 44/ July-August), p. 3

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • WALKER, B. (2007) Muscle Cramp & Spasm [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Brad Walker is a prominent Australian sports trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. Brad is a Health Science graduate of the University of New England and has postgraduate accreditations in athletics, swimming, and triathlon coaching. He also works with elite level and world champion athletes and lectures for Sports Medicine Australia on injury prevention.