A muscle cramp, also referred to as a charley horse, can cause great discomfort. Whether the result of physical strain or a medical condition, arm cramps can make performing daily activities aggravating. However, there are methods to both prevent and treat arm muscle cramps.
Arm cramps can be caused by a number of factors, such as straining, dehydration or certain medications. Cramps can be treated by stretching or applying heat, and they can be avoided by drinking plenty of fluids.
Causes of Arm Cramps
According to MedlinePlus, there are a number of causes for arm cramps, some of which are exercise-induced, and others that are linked to certain health conditions. Issues related to physical activity include:
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- Straining or overusing a muscle — this is considered the most common cause of cramping
- Injury (spinal cord injury or pinched nerve) that causes compression of your nerves
- Not getting enough blood in your muscles
- Standing on a hard surface for an extended period of time, sitting for a long time or sleeping in an awkward position
Other causes may include:
- Pregnancy (according to HealthLinkBC, this is because you may have a decreased amount of minerals in the body, especially in the last few months of pregnancy)
- Certain medicines, such as antipsychotics, birth control pills, diuretics and steroids
- Low levels of electrolytes
- Exposure to cold temperatures, especially cold water
Read more: My Calf Muscle Is Sore After Cramping
How to Treat Muscle Cramps
Cramps in the arms, cramps in the hands and feet and cramps in the legs: They're all uncomfortable. Thankfully there are ways to offset the pain when you feel a cramp coming on. According to HealthLinkBC, you can:
- Take a warm shower or bath,or use a heating pad — this will relax the muscle.
- Take an over-the-counter pain medication — make sure to read the directions carefully.
- Stretch and gently massage the muscle.
- Drink fluids, such as Gatorade (which contains electrolytes).
- Ice or a cold pack may help; just make sure to keep a cloth between your skin and the ice pack.
- Take medicine as prescribed by your doctor and call your doctor if there are any issues with the medicine you're taking.
Cramps that keep coming back or that are severe should be addressed by a health care professional.
For pregnant people experiencing muscle cramps, the American Pregnancy Association recommends stretching, massaging the painful area, adding Epsom salt to a warm bath and applying heat to the pain.
Read more: Why Do Bananas Give Me Muscle Cramps?
How to Prevent Muscle Cramps
Fact: Muscle cramps can be prevented. That's right, you can sidestep the problem before it gets the best of you. To prevent muscle cramps, HealthLinkBC recommends:
- Avoiding too much alcohol or caffeine
- Stretching your muscles on a daily basis — before and after exercise and before bedtime
- Eating healthy foods that are rich in magnesium, potassium and calcium (particularly if you're pregnant)
- Drinking plenty of fluids — your urine should be light yellow or clear
- Gradually (rather than suddenly) increasing the amount of physical activity you get
- Taking a multivitamin every day
Anyone can get a charley horse in the arm muscles, but there are certain people who are more likely than others to get them. The people most at risk are:
- Pregnant people
- Overweight people
- Older adults
- People who have preexisting medical conditions, such as thyroid or nerve disorders