Charley horse is a North American term used to describe a painful spasm or cramp, particularly one that occurs in your legs muscles, in which your muscles contract out of control and do not release. When a charley horse occurs, the muscles tighten, or contract, forcing you to experience the strongest tightness (and usually agonizing) in a period of time that can last from seconds to minutes. A charley horse can hit anyone at any time, but some people might experience these painful muscle spasms more frequently.
They can hit anywhere on your body, but the most common places are on the back of the lower leg/calf, back of your hip, or front of your hip. Worse, a charley horse can hit any time of the day or night, although a common muscle spasm is during the dream. A Charley Horse may result from direct impact or a sudden stretching of a muscle, but more often than not, it is caused by exertion or fatigue while exercising.
Most people experience these terrible cramps in their feet and legs (especially their calves), but because you have muscles everywhere on your body (duh), technically, you can get a charley horse everywhere. A charley horse is a violent cramp or spasm that happens when one or more muscles, typically those in the calves, suddenly and unintentionally tighten, sometimes creating a solid mass of muscle tissue under the skin. Charley horses, as they are more commonly called, are involuntary reactions caused by nerves controlling the muscles, typically in your calf, firing incorrectly, which causes muscles to lock up and contract.
If the charley horse is caused by exertion, a few simple stretches and massaging exercises can help loosen up the muscle and prevent the contraction. Gentle massages or holding a muscle stretched can help a charley horse resolve faster. Try to forcefully stretch the affected muscles (for example, stretching your calves while hinging upwards with your feet).
This causes the injured muscle to move in the opposite direction as the contracted muscle, relaxing tightness. If the injured areas are still painful, treat the injured areas as if they were the injured muscles, meaning resting the affected leg and avoiding further strain on the muscles. In addition to calf muscles, muscles on the soles of your feet may also get tight, which can be painful, too.
For others, though, the cramps can be tremendously painful, leaving a few days worth of discomfort for your muscles. For instance, muscle cramps are often experienced by people in their mid-to-late life, but are also common among athletes (long-distance runners and cyclists) and people with an active lifestyle. Insufficient stretching prior to exercise, exercising in heat, and muscular fatigue can all play a part in causing them.
Cramps are also more likely if you have a low level of minerals such as sodium, calcium, and potassium in your body, all of which play critical roles in muscle function. Imbalances in electrolyte levels in the blood — sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and phosphate — also contribute to muscle cramps. Low levels of any one of the electrolytes may enable a muscle to contract, but keep it from relaxing, some researchers think that an imbalance in minerals may adversely impact the flow of blood into a muscle. Chlorides role in fluid balance makes it particularly important, as dehydration may be a contributing factor in muscle cramps.
Dr. Glatter says that lack of blood flow to a particular muscle group, as well as low levels of sodium, calcium, potassium, or other electrolytes, may also increase your risk for developing a charley horse. Other conditions that cause abnormalities in your electrolytes – like liver or thyroid disorders – can also raise the risk of developing a charley horse cramp, says Dominique King. Because dehydration or a lack of specific minerals could be responsible for the charley horse, Keith Hodges says that you should get hydrated right away and replace any electrolytes that may have been lost from exertion or exertion.
Exactly what causes a charley horse is unknown, but common triggers include muscular injuries, overuse or stress caused by intense exertion, failure to stretch before or after exercising, exercising in extreme heat or cold, and dehydration, says Dr. Glaster. The most common causes of these painful cramps are lack of stretching and a lack of flexibility in muscles, says Lisa Nichole Folden.
Leg cramps can be linked to more serious problems, including muscle diseases (myopathies), nervous system disorders (neuropathy), motor neuron disorders (ALS), and Parkinsons, says Michael Jaffe. People who are pregnant or suffer from certain health conditions, like diabetes and disorders of the nervous system, liver, or thyroid, can have an increased risk of leg cramps. Muscle cramps that occur during exercise can be a sign of a more severe condition called intermittent claudication, which results from a lack of blood circulation in the legs. Nighttime leg cramps may wake you, make it harder for you to fall asleep, and make you sore throughout the night.
If you have ever been jacked out of a dream by searing leg pains that make you gasp for air, then you will understand how painful leg cramps can be. Charley Horse pain–which refers to any kind of cramping or unintentional spasm in your muscles–is caused by the muscles squeezing and constricting, says Michael Jaffee, MD, neurologist at the University of Florida Health. Usually, the cause of a charley horse is a muscle that is been overused, so that when you go to use an affected muscle, its sort of pissed off, if youd like, and muscle fibers are sort of stuck together, and they wont let go without some kind of strength, says Lisa Nichole Folden, licensed physical therapist and owner of Healthy Phit Physical Therapy & Wellness Consultants.
If you tend to develop charley horses while sleeping, flex the muscles in your calves before bedtime, and have a glass of water to prevent dehydration, says Castiello.