cramp, painful uncontrollable contraction of a muscle or group of muscles. The type that results from cold, strain, or disturbance of circulation (as experienced by swimmers) is eased by massage and the application of heat. Cramp in the abdominal or skeletal muscles brought on by hard physical exertion in extremely high temperatures (e.g., in miners, stokers, or firemen) because of loss of salt from the body during profuse perspiration can last for hours or days if untreated. Such cramps are considered to be a type of heat exhaustion. A cool atmosphere and the replacement of salt and water orally or intravenously is required, and application of heat is not recommended. Heat cramps in persons who do heavy labor can be prevented by the addition of salt to drinking water or by taking salt tablets. Contraction of muscles in a hollow organ is known as colic. A stitch in the side is due to a cramp in the muscles between the ribs.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.