Muscle Cramps

Rickie Watson, RPh - Jackson Location Inside Buehler's Fresh Foods Market

Q: I've been waking up in the middle of the night with a charley horse! What exactly IS a charley horse?

A: A charley horse is a common name for cramping in the leg muscles.  A cramp is a sudden, involuntary muscle contraction over a period of time.  They usually do not cause lasting damage, but can be very painful and debilitating.  Plus, suddenly getting woken up in the middle of the night can also be quite scary!


Q: Muscle cramps occur so sporadically, what causes them?

A: Muscle cramping can have a variety of causes, and therefore many treatments exist:


  • Make sure to drink plenty of fluids, such as water, especially after intense exercising or on hot days. Avoid sugary,  caffeinated drinks, and alcohol as they can add to dehydration.

Electrolyte Imbalance - Low potassium, low magnesium, or low sodium

  • Looking to supplement your electrolytes - check out Ritzman Brand supplements. There are many options including our Mega Magnesium.
  • If you are concerned about chronically low electrolytes, work with your medical care provider.

Medication side-effect

  • Cholesterol lowering drugs, known as statins, can produce a painful muscle condition. If you are on statins and experience this, consult your medical care provider as soon as possible.
  • Diuretics, known as "water pills" such as HCTZ, may also cause electrolyte imbalances, leading to leg cramps. Make sure and mention this to your medical care provider.

Body posture

  • If you are flying or driving long distances, try to get up and walk around every few hours to avoid having your muscles locked in one place for too long.


Q: This pain comes on very quickly - is there anything I can do for relief in the moment?

  • Gentle stretching and massage can provide quick relief of leg cramps.  Also, putting pressure on the affected leg by walking or standing up will help.  The key is to not panic when they occur, which could cause everything to "tighten" up.  Try to relax and make slow/deliberate movements to the affected area.
  • Heat will help relax a cramp at first and later on ice may be effective to provide relief.  If heat/ice is ineffective you can try anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, Advil, or naproxen, Aleve, to help relieve pain.


Q: Is there anything I can do to prevent muscle cramps?

A: Referring back to what causes muscle cramps, helps us determine how to prevent them.

Stay hydrated and eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins (fish or chicken).  Remember the old saying "you are what you eat" so try to avoid frequent trips for fast food and dessert.  A healthier lifestyle will make you feel better, exercise more efficiently, and cramp less. Keep limber and stretch properly before exercise or any time your body posture is held for a long period of time. Be aware of the medications you are taking and side effects, such as cramping, that they can potentially cause.


Q: Is this something I need to see my doctor about?

A: Many times a doctor visit is not needed with simple muscle cramping but you should definitely seek a doctor's advice in any of the following cases;

  • Frequent muscle cramping - if your muscles are cramping more than 2-3 times per week and is not relieved by stretching or massaging the area
  • Constant muscle pain/weakness - keep a close eye on this, especially if you are also taking cholesterol medication
  • Any time muscle cramps are continually preventing you from doing your normal daily activities such as running/exercising, going to work/school, or getting a good nights rest