Ouch, Charlie! What Causes Charley Horses and How to Avoid Them

Posted by OSIM on Feb 05, 2020 6:42:17 AM

Nothing wakes you up more than the excruciating pain of a Charley horse in your calf.

Keep reading to learn what causes Charley horses and the most effective methods for treating them. 

What is a Charley Horse? 

The term “charley horse” is a common term for a leg or foot cramp. The muscle contracts intensely and causes uncontrollable pain suddenly. 

The cramp can last as little as a few seconds and as long as several minutes. If you experience severe Charley horses for more than a few minutes, you should seek medical attention. 

As a whole, sudden muscle cramps like these are common. You might feel like you’re going to die, but you will not. You just have an uncontrollable pain. 

Charley horses are so common that 60 per cent of adults report nighttime leg cramps. The cramps typically occur at night or later in the day. 

Pain does not just prevent sleep, but it interrupts deep sleep. Leg cramps can easily lead to a period of insomnia. Approximately 16 million adults in the UK suffer from sleepless nights. Understanding what causes leg cramps could lead to better sleep overall. 

What Causes Charley Horses? 

Charley horses feel like your muscle has a mind of its own. YOu can’t control them. But actually, Charley horses occur as the result of any one of multiple factors.

1. Inadequate Blood Flow

If you have a narrow blood vessel, your muscle will not receive adequate blood. As you exercise, you will stress that muscle, and it will begin to hurt with what feels like a cramp. As soon as you stop exercising, the cramp will subside.

2. Muscle Injuries

If you have injured your muscle in past activity, give it a chance to rest. A Charley horse is your body’s way of saying the muscle hasn’t fully healed.

3. Temperature

If you exercise in excessive heat or cold, your muscles may cramp. This may have something to do with how your blood vessels work in extreme temperatures. 

4. Not Stretching

Before you begin any exercise, take a moment to stretch. Failing to stretch will result in an uncomfortable and uncontrollable cramp. 

5. Low Potassium and Minerals

Mineral depletion along with too little calcium, potassium, and sodium can easily cause a muscle to cramp. Your muscles need more than just water to function adequately. They need potassium and minerals. 

6. Hydration

If you do not stay hydrated, your muscles will cramp. Especially when you’re exercising, make sure you intake enough fluids. Your urine should be the colour of light lemonade and not dark beer. 

Some experts believe even your sleeping position can cause muscle spasms. If you tend to sleep in the same position for hours on end, you may experience Charley horses.  

Who Gets Charley Horses? 

Ultimately, anyone can experience muscle spasms. However, you rarely hear of toddlers waking up with muscle cramps. Some individuals have a higher risk.

Your activities, age, and health status all determine your likelihood to sustain a Charley horse. 

For example, infants and older adults are more prone to Charley horses along with athletes. Obese people and smokers, because of circulatory problems, are prone to Charley horses. 

If you’re taking drugs such as diuretics, you’re more prone to Charley horses.  

Charley Horse Prevention

If you’ve ever experienced a Charley horse, you’d do anything to prevent them. They will paralyze you momentarily.

A Charley horse will begin in your calf. It can make your foot snap back toward your leg and your toes span out uncontrollably. And it hurts.  

You can take particular measures to stop a Charley horse before it starts. 

Consider these steps to prevent unwanted muscle spasms:

1. Whenever you exercise, stretch. Take time to stretch both before and after you exercise. Pay special attention to hamstrings and calves.

2. Do not overuse your muscles. If you exercise regularly, take care to not stress any one muscle group two days in a row.

3. Avoid severe weather. Try to not exercise outdoors in extremely cold or extremely hot weather.

If you cannot avoid extreme weather and just need to get outside, try to ease into the exercise. Do not go hard from the start, but start slow and then gradually increase your intensity.

4. Stay hydrated. Take care to drink water throughout the day. Authorities say you should drink six to eight glasses of water a day. 

If you’re exercising, you should drink even more. Take care to replace the fluids you lose as you exercise. 

5. Take electrolytes. If you’re prone to muscle spasms, start incorporating electrolyte drinks into your daily routine. Electrolytes have the potassium, sodium, minerals, and magnesium that your muscles need to prevent cramping. 

6. Stretch before you rest. If you’re prone to Charley horses at night, take ten minutes to stretch before you go to bed. 

Charley Horse Remedy

You can try to cut the Charley horse off at the pass, but what happens if you still get them? How do you treat a Charley horse?

Medical Treatments

If you’re in the middle of an exercise, stop immediately when the Charley horse hits. Stretch the affected muscle as much as possible.

Stretching will hurt initially, but it will alleviate the cramp and cause it to go away. Massage the affected muscle, digging your knuckle into the area that’s the tensest.

Some heat will also help your muscle relax quickly. If you can find a heating pad, put that on the muscle to help it calm down.

If the muscle hurts even after the spasm has passed, an ice pack will numb the area and reduce inflammation. Severe Charley horses can leave your muscle sore for days. Try a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen to help with the inflammation after a Charley horse. 

If you have recurring Charley horses for days in a row, seek a doctor’s help. A doctor can prescribe muscle relaxers or physical therapy. 

In serious cases, a doctor may recommend surgery. This is for extreme cases and happens rarely as it is the most invasive response. 

Alternative Treatments

Massage and heat are the most effective non-medical responses to a Charley horse.

If you’re sitting when the spasm hits, try to stand up. Rub the muscle with your thumbs or just apply pressure until the cramp goes away.

If you suffer from chronic Charley horses, you should look into a massage chair. This will allow you to rest and receive a great massage. 

Stay Calm During a Cramp

Now that you know what causes Charley horses, you can begin to treat them effectively. 

For all of your massage needs, contact us

Topics: Foot Pain