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What Causes Charley Horses

    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 is a violent cramp or spasm that happens when one or more muscles, typically those in your calves, suddenly and unintentionally tighten, sometimes creating a solid mass of muscle tissue under your skin.

    Charley horses may be caused by direct impact or a sudden stretch on the muscles, but more often, they are caused by exertion or fatigue while exercising. Worse, charley horses can occur any time of the day or night, although a muscle cramp is most commonly experienced during sleep. Muscle cramps, or Charley horses, as they are sometimes called, are extremely common, occurring when muscles are involuntarily contracted and cannot relax.

    If you have ever been awakened at night or stopped in your tracks by an unexpected charley horse, you know muscle cramps can be incredibly painful. For others, though, the cramps can be tremendously painful, leaving you with a bit of aching in the muscles for days.

    Long periods of exercise or manual labor, especially during warm weather, may cause muscular cramps. Overuse of the muscles, dehydration, muscular tension, or just holding position for long periods can all lead to a muscle cramp. A muscle cramp may occur because of a variety of factors that may be both physiological and pathological.

    Apart from calf muscles, muscles on the soles of your feet may cramp too, and this too may cause pain. Muscle cramps in your legs that occur during exercise may be a sign of a more severe condition called intermittent claudication, due to a lack of blood circulation in your legs. Narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the legs (arteriosclerosis of the limbs) may cause cramp-like pains in your legs and feet when you are exercising.

    Imbalances in your bloods electrolyte levels–sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and phosphate–can also cause 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.

    Because dehydration or a lack of specific minerals can be responsible for the cramps, Keith Hodges says that immediately, hydrate yourself and replace any electrolytes that may be lost from exertion or exertion. In sports, you also can help prevent future muscle cramps by always warming up well and stretching well before a workout (especially the muscles that are most likely to cramp) and keeping yourself adequately hydrated while exercising. You can help prevent muscle cramps by doing flexibility exercises before and after workouts to stretch muscle groups that are more likely to cramp, and drinking lots of fluids.

    If the cramp is caused by the workout, simple stretching 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. One theory is that A charley horse or cramps might involve nerves in a particular muscle serving your leg. A particular muscle serving your leg.

    Usually, the cause of the charley horse is a muscle that is being overused, so that when you go to use the affected muscle, its sort of getting irritated, if youll, and the fibers of the muscle are sort of stuck together, and they wont let go without some kind of force, says Lisa Nichole Folden, licensed physical therapist and owner of Healthy Phit Physical Therapy & Wellness Consultants. The most common causes of these painful cramps are a lack of stretching and lack of flexibility in muscles, says Lisa Nichole Folden.

    Most people experience these terrible cramps in their feet and legs (especially their calves), but because you have muscles everywhere on your body (duh), the “charley horse” could technically occur anywhere. A charley horse typically involves your calves muscles in the back of the lower legs, but can occur in your feet as well, and sometimes your hips. Charley horses, as they are more commonly called, are involuntary reactions in which nerves controlling the muscles, typically those of the lower leg, malfunction, forcing muscles into freezing, contracted positions.

    While both nighttime leg cramps (nighttime foot cramps) and restless legs syndrome will often occur at night or while resting, restless legs syndrome does not result in severe pain. Sometimes, the pain in your calves may occur from a variety of other causes other than leg cramps — such as injury, deep vein thrombosis, ruptured Bakers cyst, etc. Also, a few other illnesses may occur along with leg cramps, such as heart diseases, kidney diseases, neurological conditions, muscular disorders, metabolic conditions, etc. Therefore, a proper diagnosis is necessary to rule out other conditions. Frequent muscle spasms are usually related to the underlying medical conditions which require medical treatments.

    For instance, muscle cramps are often seen in midlife and older adults, but are also common among athletes (long-distance runners and cyclists) and people who keep an active lifestyle. As mentioned above, pregnant women frequently suffer from muscle cramps, which is not surprising considering the higher need for magnesium among pregnant mothers, and low magnesium is one of the strongest theories associated with muscle cramps.

    Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to prevent leg cramps (see the Prevention section) and to manage leg cramps (see the Management and Treatment sections). However, there are ways you can prevent a leg cramp in the first place (see the Prevention ” ” section).

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