MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: Why do you get cramps?

Area: Medicine
Posted By: Scott Dietert, M.D. Pathology/Anatomy, retired
Date: Tue Aug 19 20:05:15 1997
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 871238974.Me


Dear Aleks,

The medical term CRAMP is defined as a painful, usually sustained (continuous), contraction or spasm of one of the body's muscles. This condition may result from a variety of conditions, such as: 1)overuse of the muscle, 2)injury to the muscle or its motor nerve *, 3)excessive stretching of the muscle, and 4)chemical abnormalites in the blood such as high levels of calcium. These causes usually involve your voluntary or skeletal muscles, for instance, the muscles in the hands, feet, arms, legs, and neck.

Cramps can also occur in the involuntary, or smooth muscle, such as the musculature lining your intestines. For example, a viral infection of the intestines that produces fever and diarrhea will often be associated with recurrent cramping pain of the small and large bowel. As another example, women often experience uterine cramps as the normal lining tissue of the uterus is shed during the menses. Even a heavy evening meal, which results in a lot of bowel gas, may distend (stretch) the musculature in the bowel wall so that we can experience very severe, recurrent, pain spasms or cramps; sometimes an antacid with silicone ingredients will bring relief to this usually short-lived, but often quite uncomfortable, after dinner "treat."

Thank you for a good question about a painful condition that everyone, including this writer, experiences periodically.


Motor Nerve: The "motor nerves" are those which are specifically involved in controlling the contraction of muscles.

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