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Cramps in Legs and Hands

Muscle spasms (muscle cramps) are painful muscle contractions and tightenings. They are common, uncontrollable, and involuntary. Although there are methods for preventing muscle spasms and treating them when they occur, they are not always effective. Muscle relaxants, stretching, and massage are likely to be beneficial.

Spasms, also known as muscle cramps, occur when your muscle contracts involuntarily and forcibly and are unable to relax. These are very common and can affect any muscle in your body. They can affect a single muscle or several muscles in a group. The thighs, calves, feet, hands, arms, and abdomen are the most common locations for muscle spasms. Such cramps are known as “Charley horses” when they occur in the calves. A “nocturnal leg cramp” is one that occurs at night while you are resting or sleeping.

Cramps in legs and hands

Cramps in legs

Leg cramps are sudden, involuntary contractions or spasms of the muscles in the legs. They can occur in any part of the leg, but are most commonly felt in the calf muscles. There are several potential causes of leg cramps, including:

  1. Dehydration: Not drinking enough fluids can lead to muscle cramps.
  2. Electrolyte imbalances: Low levels of potassium, magnesium, or calcium in the body can cause cramps.
  3. Overuse or strain: Exercising too much or too intensely, or using muscles in a new way, can lead to cramping.
  4. Poor circulation: Blood flow problems can cause leg cramps.
  5. Medications: Certain medications can increase the risk of muscle cramps.
  6. Medical conditions: Conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and peripheral artery disease can cause leg cramps.

In most cases, leg cramps are not a serious condition and can be treated by stretching the affected muscles or taking steps to prevent them from occurring in the first place. However, if your leg cramps are severe, frequent, or accompanied by other symptoms, it is important to see a doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

Cramps in hands

Hand cramps are involuntary contractions or spasms of the muscles in the hand, which can be painful and make it difficult to use the affected hand. Hand cramps can occur for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Overuse or strain: Using the hand muscles excessively or performing repetitive motions can cause hand cramps.
  2. Dehydration: Not drinking enough fluids can lead to muscle cramps in the hand.
  3. Electrolyte imbalances: Low levels of potassium, magnesium, or calcium in the body can cause cramps.
  4. Nerve compression: Conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome can cause compression of nerves in the hand, leading to cramps.
  5. Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and kidney disease can cause hand cramps.

Treatment for hand cramps depends on the underlying cause. In some cases, hand cramps can be treated by stretching the affected muscles or applying heat or ice to the area. In other cases, medication or surgery may be necessary to address the underlying condition causing the cramps.

What causes cramps in legs and hands?

Muscle contraction is normally the result of normal bodily processes such as communication between the brain, spinal cord, and muscles. Certain chemicals and proteins are also involved in normal muscle contraction and are in charge of muscle fiber shortening and relaxation.

The brain is in charge of signaling the muscle to contract via electrical signals and chemical releases. During muscle contraction, brain signals are sent directly to the muscle via the spinal cord. Within the muscle, chemicals and proteins interact, causing muscle shortening and relaxation.                                                                                           

Muscle spasms and cramping can occur when this process of muscle contraction is disrupted abnormally. This pain frequently resolves itself within minutes. Muscle twitching may accompany muscle spasms or cramps and can occur during periods of rest or after a muscle contraction.

How are leg cramps treated?

Stretching

Relax the tense muscle. Stop any activity that may have caused the cramp and gently stretch the muscle, holding the stretch for a few seconds. You can even massage the muscle while stretching or afterward.

After stretching, consider applying a heating pad to the affected area, as described below. If you wake up in the middle of the night with calf cramps, stand up and slowly put weight on the affected leg to push the heel down and stretch the muscle.

Magnesium

If you regularly have leg cramps that aren’t related to a more serious condition, you might try adding more magnesium to your diet. Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of magnesium.

Magnesium Trusted Source has been suggested for treating pregnant women’s muscle cramps, but more studies are needed. Talk to your doctor before taking any magnesium supplements if you’re pregnant.

Heat

Many personal trainers, coaches, and physical therapists also recommend using Epsom salts on the outside of your body to supplement magnesium. There is a large selection available online. 

Use a wet cloth to apply this old-school remedy to a cramped muscle, or add some to a hot bath for a soak. In fact, a hot soak, with or without Epsom salts, provides relief for many people.

Dry heat, such as a heating pad, may also be beneficial. There are numerous options available online. Start with the lowest heat setting and only increase it if you’re not getting any relief.

Hydration

Hydration is another option for relieving leg cramps. It may take a little longer to relieve your pain, but after drinking water or an electrolyte-containing sports drink, you may be able to avoid another cramp.

Get moving

Walking around may help ease leg cramps by sending a signal to the muscle that it needs to relax after it contracts.

If all else fails, and you continue to have regular muscle cramps, consider getting regular massages to help the muscles relax.

How are hand cramps treated?

Stretching, swimming, strength-building exercises, increasing fluid intake, and taking vitamin D supplements are all general home remedies for hand cramps. Treatments may also be recommended based on the cause of your symptoms.

  1. To treat low magnesium- Eat more leafy greens, legumes, and whole grains to increase your magnesium intake. Take a magnesium supplement (or a magnesium and calcium supplement). If you have stomach discomfort, try magnesium chelate, which is easier to digest.
  2. To treat dehydration- Drink water as well as a rehydration drink containing electrolytes, such as Gatorade, if you have mild dehydration. You can also make your own rehydration drink by combining 1/2 teaspoon salt, 6 teaspoons sugar, and 1-liter water.
  3. To treat poor circulation- Participate in a doctor-recommended exercise program. Other treatments are dependent on the underlying cause of the circulation problem.
  4. To treat carpal tunnel syndrome- Take frequent breaks, avoid activities that aggravate symptoms, and use a cool compress. Splinting, over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, yoga, physical therapy, or surgery may also be recommended by your doctor.
  5. To treat stiff hand syndrome- Maintain proper blood glucose levels, and try exercises like tossing a ball to strengthen and stretch the hand. Physical therapy may also be recommended by your doctor.
  6. To treat rheumatoid arthritis- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), or surgery may be recommended by your doctor.

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