Here’s how to avoid — and get rid of — muscle cramps

Whether you call it a charley horse, a muscle spasm or a cramp, sharp muscle pains can immobilize you for a few seconds or for even 15 minutes or more.

There’s nothing worse than getting a leg cramp in the middle of the night, or ending a swim with a back spasm. While it might seem like muscle cramps are just something you have to live with — the price for living an active lifestyle — there are ways to ease the pain quickly. Even better, there are ways to avoid getting them in the first place.

“Muscle pain, fatigue, and overuse are the most common causes of muscle spasms. Other causes include stress or anxiety, which can lead to muscle twitches in the face. Trapped nerves can result in spasms in the back,” explained Medical News Today.

Muscle spasm typically occur in the thighs, calves or feet but can happen to any part of the body at anytime of the day, including while you’re sleeping, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

The most common causes of muscle spasms include:

  • Not enough stretching
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Exercising in the heat
  • Dehydration
  • Depletion of electrolytes (salts and minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium in your body)
  • Involuntary nerve discharges
  • Restriction in the blood supply
  • Stress
  • Too much high-intensity exercise

“Muscle spasms may also happen when calcium or other minerals are not in their proper ranges or after strenuous exertion,” Loren Fishman, MD, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Columbia University and the medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation told USA TODAY.

If you want to be proactive and try to avoid a muscle spasms the following tips can help. Some can even be done in bed.

  • Perform flexibility exercises on a regular basis
  • Stretch your muscles regularly, especially before going to sleep
  • Drink water frequently; limit carbonated drinks and alcohol
  • Avoid exercising in hot weather
  • Wear shoes that fit you properly
  • Experiment with mild exercise right before bed to prevent nocturnal leg cramps
  • Avoid medications that may cause muscle spasms as a side effect
  • If you sleep on your back, use pillows to keep your toes pointed upwards

If a muscle spasm interrupts your day, here are five ways to help treat them:

  • Stretch the affected area
  • Massage the affected area with your hands or a massage roller
  • Stand up and walk around
  • Apply heat or ice. Put an ice pack together or apply a heating pad, or take a nice warm bath
  • Take painkillers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen

“If the pain becomes unbearable, or if the spasms start after you touch a substance that could be poisonous or infectious, go to the ER,” advised the Cleveland Clinic.