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Charley Horse

Charley Horse – Sudden Muscle Spasms

Have you ever been lying in bed, just about to doze off or running or jogging in your nearby park and suddenly you are plagued with excruciating muscle spasms in your leg that make it impossible for you to move? These spasms last for several minutes and you just end up sitting wherever you are tolerating the pain and waiting for it to subside.

Ever wondered what these sudden muscle spasms are called? These sudden leg spasms are called Charley horses. The exact cause for these sudden spasms is unknown but according to some doctors, these are caused due to dehydration, poor blood flow, or working muscles too much. Regardless of what the cause is, the pain is agonizing and unbearable. In this article, we’ll cover how you can treat charley horse cramps and what you can do to get rid of them.

What is a Charley Horse?

A charley horse is another name given to muscle spasms or cramps. The muscles in our legs are made up of fibers that contract and expand as we move. A spasm is a sudden contraction of these muscle fibers. These sudden spasms can be mild, or severe enough to wake you up or fall on the ground because of the intensity of the pain. The sudden, intense spasms or cramps in the leg are known as charley horses. It is called charley horse because the condition is named after a baseball player, Charlie “Hoss” Radbourn, who used to frequently suffer from muscle spasms back in 1880.

Charley Horse Symptoms

The symptoms of charley horse are evident be it charley horse in the foot or charley horse in the thigh. Your muscles contract involuntarily when a spasm occurs. The muscle becomes hard and tight and renders the leg temporarily immobile. These cramps can occur in any part of the body but are most common in the calf muscle.

What causes sudden Charley Horse?

Charley horse happens suddenly but there are underlying causes that lead to you getting this excruciating leg spasm. You may be suffering from some health condition or problems that can trigger a muscle spasm. It can also be triggered because of some unhealthy practices. Some of them are as follows:

–          Poor blood circulation in the body

–          Dehydration

–          Deficiency of some electrolytes like magnesium and potassium

–          Not stretching before exercising

–          A spinal cord injury

–          Kidney Disease

Besides these, age and other medical conditions increase your risk of getting a charley horse. Muscle cramps are also a side effect of certain medications.

How to Manage Pain due to Muscle Spasm?

There are a couple of myths that revolve around Charley horses. Some say keeping a piece of mustard in your mouth helps ease the pain that occurs while a spasm. While this may seem like a good idea, it’s not that simple. Here we mention a few you can do to relieve yourself from the excruciating pain:

1)      Massaging: While it may seem impossible to touch the muscle that is cramping, it is recommended to massage the muscle to relieve yourself from the pain. Slowly and gently rub the muscle in circular motions.

2)      Stretching: Charley Horse occurs when muscles contract. A certain level of muscle movement can help the muscles expand and diminish the pain significantly.

3)      Ice or Heat Pads: Keep an ice pack or heat pad with you if you frequently experience a charley horse. Place it on the muscle that is cramping. It may not stop the spasm but it will provide relief from the pain.

4)      Hyperventilating: You may hear your adults say “Breath through the pain”. If you breathe rapidly it helps relax the body as it decreases the intracranial pressure on the brain. Charley horse causes an immense amount of pain so breathing rapidly through it will help reduce the pain to a certain degree.

Who is at Risk?

There are certain people who are more at risk of getting Charley horses than others. It is common amongst older individuals because of the decreased muscle mass in their bodies. Athletes are also more likely to get a charley horse (the condition is named after one). This is because they work their muscles a lot which is one of the causes of charley horses.

People who are overweight and pregnant women are also more inclined to get Charley horses. Besides that, it is common amongst individuals who suffer from certain medical conditions like diabetes or thyroid, liver, or nerve disorders.

How to get rid of Charley Horse completely?

There are a couple of things you can do to get rid of the charley horse. The charley horse treatment includes the following:

1)      Drink lots of water: One of the most prominent causes of charley horse is dehydration. Drink at least 8- 10 glasses of water every day to keep yourself hydrated especially during summers.  

2)      There are some over-the-counter medications that can decrease the frequency of spasms or completely diminish the likelihood of you getting charley horse

3)      Eat magnesium and potassium-rich foods like nuts, tofu, dark chocolate, avocados, cucumbers, bananas, and sweet potatoes.

4)      Limit your consumption of alcohol and avoid smoking

5)      Always stretch before you exercise to prevent the tightening of muscles.

Experiencing Frequent Foot Cramps? Find an Expert

While charley horse causes severely agonizing pain, it is manageable if you change certain things in your lifestyle. But even after doing so you frequently experience foot cramps consult the expert physicians at Manhattan Medical Arts, who will help you determine what exactly is causing these cramps so you’ll be able to take the necessary measures to treat them more effectively.

– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by Dr. Syra Hanif, M.D. on 06/28/2021

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  • About The Author

    Dr. Syra Hanif M.D.

    Board Certified Primary Care Physician

Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.

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