Formula Medical Group
Apple Valley, CA

James Krider, MD

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Muscle cramps and spasms

muscle cramps and muscle spasm

Overuse and trauma is a common cause of muscle cramps and spasms.

Muscle cramps and spasms are sudden, sharp pains that can be intense enough to interfere with movement. Since there are more than 600 muscles in the human body, cramps can occur almost anywhere. Most muscle disorders are caused by overexertion, especially among athletes or those who rush into an exercise program without preparing properly. They may also be the result of chronic strain, which can occur in people such as salespersons, traffic police, and hairdressers who are on their feet all day. Sometimes a muscle cramp is a sign of illness, or even a severe medical problem.

Causes of muscle cramps and spasms

Colds and flu
The cold is indeed "common," since everyone has one from time to time. The most frequent symptoms are the familiar runny nose and sore throat, but there may also be muscle aches and pains in the legs and lower back. Influenza, or flu, is a more severe disease. It begins like a cold but soon the discomfort and fever become more apparent, with strong aches in the back and legs. Flu is caused by three different groups of viruses.

Gastrointestinal disorders
The abdominal area is one of the most common sites of muscle cramps or spasms. Frequently, the nature and location of the pain, as well as the circumstances under which it occurs, will point to the cause. Food poisoning can cause spasmodic stomach cramps, often accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea. Waves of severe abdominal cramps radiating to the back and right shoulder indicate possible

gallstones. Irritable bowel syndrome, usually characterized by alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation, is a common cause of lower abdominal cramps. Ulcerative colitis can also cause severe abdominal cramps. Pain around the navel and spreading to the lower right side may be a sign of appendicitis, especially if it is accompanied by a fever and nausea. Intestinal parasites such as giardia, roundworms, or tapeworms, can cause abdominal cramps, along with weight loss, fatigue, and other symptoms.

This is one of the most common diseases of the liver. It is usually caused by a virus and spread by person-to-person contact or through food and water contaminated by feces, which may occur when an infected person handles food with unclean hands. Hepatitis may resemble flu at first, with fever, severe headache, and aching, crampy muscles. Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, generally appears within a week.

Huntington's chorea
Huntington's chorea is a hereditary disease characterized by severe muscle contractions and spasms along with progressive dementia.

Menstrual disorders
In women, cramps in the lower abdomen may signal the onset of a menstrual period or may be caused by endometriosis or a miscarriage.

Muscle contractions
Arthritis, muscle overuse, posture defects, and poorly aligned joints are but a few of the many causes of muscle

contractions and cramps. Hormonal imbalances and potassium deficiency also can cause muscle cramps. Muscle spasms in the lower back are the most common cause of backaches.

Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone caused by bacteria transported in the bloodstream from a distant infection, or by an injury to the bone. In children, it most often results from an infection, while in adults the leading cause is bone injury. There is intense pain in the bone, and the muscles over the affected area are swollen, rigid, and painful to the touch. Osteomyelitis can become chronic, with frequent, painful flare-ups.

Also known as lockjaw, this is a serious, acute infection that affects the central nervous system. Tetanus is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization. The initial symptoms include headache, low-grade fever, and feelings of irritability, apprehension, and restlessness. The first characteristic sign is a stiff jaw and difficulty opening the mouth. Tetanus is easily preventable by routine vaccination of both children and adults.

Advice about muscle cramps and spasms

  • Always do stretching and warm up and cool down exercises before and after a workout.
  • Make sure your diet includes good sources of potassium, such as citrus fruits, bananas, vegetables, and legumes.
This article was last reviewed November 9 , 2005 by Dr. James Krider.
Reproduced in part with permission of Home Health Handbook.
Back strain
Common cold
Crohn's disease
Finger contractions
Huntington's chorea
Irritable bowel syndrome
Low back pain
Menstrual cramps
Posture defects
Traveler's diarrhea
Ulcerative colitis

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