A muscle cramp is a sudden, severe, and involuntary muscle contraction or over-shortening. It can cause mild-to-severe pain, and a paralysis-like immobility. Usually, it resolves on its own over several seconds, minutes, or in the worst scenario after several hours. In the healthy adult population, the incidence of muscle cramping is 50â€“60%.
Source Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology , Volume 41, Pages 89-95
Cramps are usually classified into three types - the first two are so common that many consider them a 'normal' part of human existence.
1) those that occur during sleep without any obvious trigger.
2) those triggered by vigorous exercise.
The third type, which are very much less common, are as a result of pathological disorders of some kind (.e.g. diabetes etc )
Scientific research attempting to establish the exact cause of cramp began more than 100 years ago. Leading to two widespread theories : the 'dehydration hypothesis' and 'electrolyte depletion hypothesis'.
It's now generally considered, however, that neither of the two theories offers a full explanation (see the review paper linked above).
Research is hampered by the fact that cramps tend to be very intermittent, and are difficult (and possibly unethical) to spontaneously generate.
Note that there is also no proven effective drug treatment for the prevention of cramp.
General details :Wikipedia
Further info.on excercise related cramp [ paywalled ] Muscle & Nerve, 54,177â€“185
Also see :
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