What is a charley horse?
horse is another name for a muscle spasm. Charley horses can occur in virtually
any muscle, but they are most common in the legs. These spasms are marked by
extremely uncomfortable muscle contractions.
muscles don’t relax for several seconds or more, and the pain can be severe.
Charley horses that are severe enough can result in the muscle being sore for a
few hours or even a day. This is normal, as long as the pain isn’t prolonged or
horses are generally treatable at home, especially if they are infrequent.
However, frequent muscle spasms are often linked to underlying health
conditions that need medical treatment. Your doctor can help you determine the
cause of frequent charley horses. And you can implement treatments and
preventive measures to increase your overall comfort.
What causes a charley horse?
A number of
factors may cause a muscle to cramp or spasm. The most common causes of charley
blood flow to the muscle
in excessive heat or cold
of a specific muscle during exercise
most often in the neck muscles
stretching before exercise
compression in the spine
diuretics, which can lead to low potassium levels
depletion, too little calcium, potassium, and sodium in the blood
Many people experience charley horses during sleeping hours
and are awakened because of them. Muscle spasms that cause charley horses while
we sleep are common, but are not entirely understood. It’s thought that part of
the reason they occur so frequently during sleep is the result of a person
lying in an awkward position for a long period of time that can cause a muscle
Risk factors for charley
spasms can happen to anyone, at any age. And a charley horse can occur at any
time of the day or night.
horses do tend to occur more often among people in the following groups:
who are obese
taking certain medications like diuretics, Evista, or statin drugs
People who are obese are more likely to experience charley
horses because of poor circulation in their legs. Athletes often experience
charley horses because of muscle fatigue or overuse.
Diagnosing the cause of frequent
occasional charley horse doesn’t require an official medical diagnosis.
However, your doctor should investigate frequent, recurrent muscle spasms. This
would apply if a charley horse occurs more than once a week without an adequate
explanation. A diagnosis is generally obtained through a history and physical
may be helpful in determining whether nerve compression is the cause of
frequent charley horses. An MRI machine uses a magnetic field and radio waves
to create a detailed image of your body’s internal structures. Laboratory work
may also be necessary to rule out low potassium, calcium, or magnesium levels.
doctor suspects that nerve damage or other complex causes are to blame, you may
be referred to a physical therapist or other specialist.
Treatment for a charley
for charley horses depends on their underlying cause. If a charley horse is
exercise-induced, simple stretches and massages can help relax the muscle and
stop it from contracting. Heating pads can accelerate the relaxation process,
while an ice pack can help numb the pain. If your muscle is still sore, your
doctor may recommend a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication like
charley horses require more aggressive treatment. Pain medications may be
prescribed if ibuprofen isn’t enough to ease your discomfort. In severe cases,
your doctor may prescribe antispasmodic medication. Physical therapy can help
you cope with muscle spasms and prevent further complications.
cases, surgery may be recommended. When all other treatments have failed,
surgery can be used to enlarge the space around a nerve to relieve pressure. If
your spasms are caused by nerve compression, this may help.
experiencing a charley horse, there are certain massages and stretches that can
both provide immediate relief and prevent potential pain.
charley horse, you can use your hands to apply pressure to the site of the
cramp to relieve pain. You can also try using both of your thumbs to gradually
apply pressure to the site of the cramp until the pain goes away.
charley horse is located in your leg you can try to relieve the pain by doing
the following stretches:
- standing up
- stepping the leg that isn’t
experiencing muscle cramping forward into a lunge
- straightening the back leg that is
experiencing the cramp, and lunge forward on the front leg
You can also
stand on the tips of your toes for a few seconds at a time to stretch your calf
have identified the cause of the occasional charley horse, the symptoms are
generally easy to prevent. Take these steps to help avoid future muscle spasms:
before and after exercise
exercising the same muscles on consecutive days
not exercise in severe weather
water throughout the day
beverages that contain electrolytes, such as Gatorade
before going to bed