Charley Horse

Charley horse in athletes

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

Understanding Charley Horse

The unbelievably common leg cramps people experience is medically termed as Charley Horse. Charley Horse is an involuntary muscle spasm leading to cramps. Any muscle in the body can go into a spasm, although this medical condition occurs most commonly in the muscles of the legs. The skeletal muscles in the calf, thigh, and arch of the foot are more prone to contractions causing severe pain. The muscle that has gone into a cramp can visibly twitch and feel hard upon touch. These muscle spasms can occur even during sleep. Lying in an awkward position for a long time can also trigger this condition. One of the overriding causes of muscle spasm is dehydration

Although, most of the time these muscle spasms are harmless, what is perhaps unnerving is, they can arise without any warning. Recurring Charley Horses will need an investigation to rule out the existence of an underlying condition, Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).

Typically, these spasms or cramps can last for a few seconds or more. Longer spasms cause soreness in the affected muscle that can last for a few hours or even linger for a day. Anyone who has experienced a Charley Horse will recall the experience of excruciating pain.

So, why do we refer a leg cramp with this unique name?

According to legend, the American Baseball pitcher of the 1880s, Charley Radbourne, a.k.a Old Hoss had apparently suffered an incapacitating cramp on the baseball field. The name, Charlie horse, allegedly came to be associated with these muscle contractions in the legs.

Who are at risk of Charley Horse?

The existence of certain conditions as well as a lifestyle can up the risk of Charley Horse.

  • Obesity
  • Expecting Women
  • Sportsmen, Athletes
  • Sedentary older adults
  • Infants
  • Victims of Hypertension, Diabetes, Hypothyroidism
  • Smokers

What Causes Charley Horse?

Medical experts have pinned the possible causes for Charley Horse that leaves victims with cramping and pain of varying intensity. Some of the predominant reasons are as follows:

  • Poor blood circulation in the legs: Muscles need oxygen and poor blood circulation can cause a reduced amount of oxygen supply, leading to spasms
  • Muscle fatigue: Excessive workload on the muscle can lead to fatigue. If the body is not given adequate recovery time post-exercise, muscle fatigue sets in. This also results in reduced assimilation of nutrients needed to energize the muscles. The efficiency of muscle function drops leading to spasms
  • Insufficient fluid intake: Fluid keeps muscles well hydrated as well as helps them contract and relax. Inadequate fluid intake results in muscle strain, making it more prone to Charley Horse.
  • Inadequate warming up/stretching pre and post-exercise: Inactivity or a sudden increase in the intensity of exercise leaves muscles unprepared to handle the sudden workload. This can lead to cramps.
  • Exposure of muscles to extreme hot or cold temperatures: Muscles lose more heat in cold weather and contract. This causes stiffness leading to cramps. Extreme heat can also cause muscles to stiffen especially if one overexerts or exercises in hot and humid weather. This could also lead to dehydration that increases the risk of muscle cramps.
  • Sedentary lifestyle/Not changing the sitting position for long hours: Cramps can occur among those whose lifestyle is sedentary. Even sitting too long in one position without any movement of muscles can increase the susceptibility to charley horse.
  • Prolonged use of certain medicines: Antihypertensives, for instance, Diuretics, to reduce blood pressure can cause the fluid and salt content in the body to drop. Some statins can also trigger muscle cramps. Medicines to treat conditions like asthma, osteoporosis, and diabetes and cholesterol-lowering agents can increase the risk of cramps. Few oral contraceptives can also cause a charley horse.
  • Compression of spinal nerves: A compressed nerve in the back or neck can cause cramps. Further, any injury to the spinal cord can trigger a severe form of charley
  • Depletion of minerals: Low levels of potassium, sodium, and calcium in the blood is an important reason for the onset of cramps.
  • Obesity: Overweight and obese people carry an elevated risk of improper blood circulation. The symptoms of poor blood supply can result in numbness, tingling, pain in the limbs and cramps.
  • Prolonged periods of stress: Stress is never good and is no exception with muscle cramps. Stress leads to muscle rigidity. Stress causes the nervous system to exert pressure on the blood vessels. This leads to contraction of muscles. Tense musclestend to go into a spasm.
  • Alcoholism: Alcohol-associated cramps is a reality. Consumption of alcohol can cause the collection of lactic acid in the muscles. This is akin to the accumulation of lactic acid after intense exercise, which can trigger cramps and soreness.
  • Parkinson’s disease: Muscle rigidity is one of the fallouts of Parkinson’s disease resulting in a reduction in movement. This can trigger the onset of a charley horse.
  • Hypothyroidism: Low thyroid levels can trigger stiffness in joints and muscles, which leads to pain and cramps.
  • High/Low blood sugar: Glucose is a vital ingredient needed by muscles that aids in contraction and relaxation of muscles. Cramps occur in both cases of high and low blood sugar. Mainly imbalance in sugar causes cramps.
  • Flat feet: Structural defects in the feet for instance flat feet can exert undue pressure on the muscles in the calf as well as those along the bottom of the feet. This can lead to cramping.
  • Peripheral artery disease: A serious medical condition could be underlying the symptom of leg cramps called peripheral artery disease. This condition is indicative of cholesterol blocking the blood vessels present in the legs that lead to disruption in blood flow. PAD can trigger painful leg cramps.
  • Pregnancy: Leg cramps during pregnancy are a reality. The reasons range from fatigue to compression of nerves and improper circulation of blood in the legs.  Other possible factors are a deficiency of magnesium and calcium. Inadequate consumption of fluids is also a common cause of cramps for expecting mothers.

Medicines that can trigger the charley horse

Following are some of the medicines that can cause the onset of muscle cramps.

  • Donepezil (Aricept), used to treat Alzheimer’s disease
  • Furosemide (Lasix), hydrochlorothiazide (Microzide), and other diuretics that remove fluid from the body
  • Neostigmine (Prostigmine), for myasthenia gravis
  • Raloxifene (Evista), for treating osteoporosis
  • Nifedipine (Procardia), medicine to treat hypertension and angina
  • Terbutaline (Brethine), albuterol (Proventil and Ventolin), are asthma medications
  • Tolcapone (Tasmar), which helps treat Parkinson’s disease
  • Statin medications to lower cholesterol, such as fluvastatin(Lescol), atorvastatin (Lipitor)lovastatin (Mevacor), rosuvastatin (Crestor), pravastatin (Pravachol), or simvastatin (Zocor)

Interesting myths about Charley Horse

  • Will eating a banana stop an imminent muscle spasm? Although a medium-sized banana can take care of 12% of the daily requirement of potassium, it might not help someone experiencing a cramp. For the potassium to be absorbed into the body, it takes more than 60 minutes and it may do precious little to relieve a cramp.
  • Pickle juice – Even though few athletes reported relief from cramps after drinking pickle juice, there is no apparent link in spite of its salt or fluid content. During blood tests, the results showed the blood plasma composition remained unaltered afterthe consumption of water or pickle juice.

What are the symptoms of Charley Horse?

 Those who experience these painful spasms in the legs may have noticed certain telltale symptoms that precede its onset.

Involuntary muscle contractionsmost often in the legs

  • Heaviness at the spot preceding the condition
  • Contraction and stiffening of muscles in the toes
  • Twitching of muscles
  • Hardening of muscles at the site of the cramp
  • Strenuous exercise as a trigger for muscle spasms

Diagnosing Charley Horse

Medical experts evaluate symptoms, occurrence, and frequency to diagnose the condition. They also suggest blood tests to ascertain levels of key mineral and electrolytes in the body. Some important pointers that help in the diagnosis are as follows:

  • Many people experience a charley horse when they are asleep. This is of course quite common and does not need any medication especially if it is not frequent.
  • If muscle cramps trouble more than once in a week, consult a medical specialist.
  • Medical specialists conduct a thorough physical examination and record the patient’s medical history.
  • Depending upon the severity and frequency of spasms, experts may suggest further investigation, for instance, MRI scan to evaluate the nerve condition. These scans show the condition of the nerves clearly to assess the situation better and accordingly prescribe treatment.
  • Laboratory tests to check the levels of potassium, calcium and magnesium levels also aid diagnosis

Treatment for Charley Horse

Most often, these cramps get resolved immediately. They are usually treatable and preventable by adopting certain measures. Any pain caused by a spasm will not typically last more than a day. However, if you experience charley horse frequently, talk with your doctor about possible treatment measures. They can help determine the cause, treatment and preventive measures to get rid of these painful spasms.

  • Charley horse is treatable at home as long as they are not frequent and recurring
  • Treatment will depend on the cause of the spasm. For exercise-induced spasms, simple stretches and massage with heat packs can help the muscle relax. It is also good to stretch before and after the exercise as a way to prevent spasms
  • If the muscle continues to ache, pain management drugs like Ibuprofen helps. In case of severe spasm, doctors prescribe antispasmodic medication
  • In certain cases, doctors prescribe physiotherapy to relieve the contracting muscle
  • In extreme case of a frequent charley horse, consultation with a neurologist can help ascertain the severity of the condition
  • Surgery may be a solution for a few patients dealing with nerve compression where intervention may be the only way to relieve the pressure.

How to manage the symptoms

  • Certain massage techniques and stretch exercises may relieve symptoms of Charley. Try standing up, stepping on the leg that is not having a cramp and lunge forward on the front leg.
  • Stand on the tip of your toes for a few seconds to stretch the calf muscles as a way to relax the muscle.

Prevention of charley horse

 As with any illness, prevention is always better than cure. Follow some simple measures to completely prevent or reduce the severity of cramps.

  • For exercise-induced cramps, stretch or warm-up exercises before and after the session help
  • Use your thumbs to apply pressure gradually on the site of the cramp to relieve the pain.
  • Avoid exercise of the cramped muscle until the pain is completely gone
  • Drink adequate water as dehydration is one of the causes of muscle spasm.
  • Avoid exercising in severe weather conditions.
  • Drink beverages that contain electrolytes.
  • To avoid muscle cramps during sleep it is advisable to perform stretches before going to bed.
  • Always exercise under the supervision of a professional fitness This is especially the case with weight lifting that requires guidance to avoid injury to the muscle.

 

 

Dos and Don'ts

Dos
  • Exercise regularly
  • Perform stretches before and after exercise
  • Consume a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals
  • Adopt a comfortable posture while sitting
  • Drink adequate water
  • De-stress and relax
Don'ts
  • Remain inactive for a prolonged period
  • Overexert muscles
  • Smoke
  • Consume alcohol

 

 

 

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Easy steps on how to do the plank for the perfect abs The plank exercise helps in several ways like strengthening your abs, shoulders, back and glutes. Plank can also…
Bone marrow aspiration Bone marrow aspiration is a process where a sample of the bone marrow is withdrawn from the bone…
smelling-salts-benefits
The actual science behind smelling salts and how it helps in injury recovery Most smelling salts are a mixture of ammonium carbonate and some perfumes which are sniffed by an individual…
sleep deprivation
Don’t let your sleep deficit grow into memory loss or heart attack Why is sleep important for us? How could sleep deprivation harm you? We bet you didn't know about…
Exercises or diet? Find out the healthiest way to gain weight Tired of being called skinny all the time? Looking for healthy ways to beef up? Why not try…
reflexology massage
Top reasons why you should go for a reflexology massage today Reflexology involves the application of pressure to your feet and hands to encourage self-healing. Could this be beneficial…
Sputum test Sputum test is a commonly used diagnostic tool that is used to examine the presence of pathogens in…
piles
Best treatment for piles in Bangalore All you need to know about piles and piles treatment in Bangalore - the types of treatment available,…
anoscopy
Anoscopy Anoscopy is an invasive diagnostic procedure where a small device known as anoscope will be inserted in the…
GGt test
GGT – Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase Test GGT or gammaglutamyl transferase test is a liver function test that is used to detect the extent of…
High Fiber Diet – Fire up your fiber intake for these health benefits! Regular bowels, healthy detox, higher immunity, and guaranteed weight loss - a high fiber diet can bring all…
Mood swings
The real reasons for your mood swings and how to overcome them Are you prone to heated moods frequently? Do you also feel bouts of depressive feeling creeping up on…
free thyroxine ft4
Free thyroxine test (FT4) The FT4 or free thyroxine test is used to detect the level of free thyroxine of FT4 thyroid…
18 instant steps to make your jogging routine more powerful Jogging is a form of Aerobic Endurance training which includes running at a slow pace. Jogging is slower…
Cayenne: The remarkable benefits of these red hot chili peppers These may make you rush for a glass of water, but cayenne pepper is actually a healthy additive…
Bubble Tea: Bubbling with nutrition or a hidden sugar mine? The tapioca pearls present in the tea looks like bubbles and hence the name bubble tea became popular.…
Barium-enema
Barium Enema Barium enema is also known as colon x-ray. Here, the patient is asked to consume small amount of…
Garlic health benefits cloves
Garlic: Nature’s white pill as an effective home remedy What are the secrets hidden in these tiny white pills? Find out the immense health benefits of using…
hYdroxycut pills
Hydroxycut: How safe are these so-called weight loss supplements? Hydroxycut is a blend of several different ingredients formulated to promote weight loss; powered by a key weight…
L-theanine attention
L-Theanine: Better sleep, higher focus, and many other benefits Did you know that L-theanine found in green tea can make you sleep better and be focused at…
How seitan proved to be a blessing in disguise for vegans worldwide Can only meat-eaters enjoy delicious juicy steaks and burgers? With seitan, the best meat substitute available today,even vegans…
blood ketone test
Blood Ketone (D3HB) Test The Blood Ketone Test measures and monitors the levels of ketone in the blood which is usually performed…
11 unbelievable health benefits of thyme you didn’t know! Thyme is a herb that has been used in alternative medicine.It is a well known seasoning in the…
amylase test
Amylase Test Amylase test is done by checking the level of this protein in the blood sample and also in…
sodium chloride
Halotherapy: How inhaling salt can work wonders for your body Halotherapy is quickly gaining popularity amongst those with respiratory diseases. It has shown promise in its treatment.
CT-scan-machine
CT – Computed Tomography Scan CT scan or computed tomography scan is an diagnostic imaging technique where cross-sectional images of body are obtained…
kidney stones
Kidney stones Kidney stones are solid substances made up of crystals. They can be of various sizes. Treatment depend on…
Trisodium Phosphate: How a paint thinner made its way into your breakfast Ever thought how toxic chemicals find their way into our foods? How can they harm our body? And…
ureteroscopy
Ureteroscopy Ureteroscopy is the diagnostic procedure which is used for the detection of the kidney stones in addition to…
Rubella IgM test
Rubella IgM Test The Rubella IgM test is a blood test that is performed to diagnose the presence of the rubella…
lp-pla2
LP-PLA2 Test The LP-PLA2 test is a test which is carried out to assess the levels of Lipoprotein-Associated Phospholipase A2…
shiitake mushrooms healthy
What are Shiitake Mushrooms and why should you eat them? Shiitake Mushrooms are well known for their smoky and robust taste. However, did you know they are replete…
beta hcg test
Beta hCG Test A Beta hCG test measures the level of human gonadotropin hormones present in the blood that is primarliy…
Tart Cherry: The healthiest excuse for taking that second serving of pie Tart cherry has been traditionally used in delectable desserts such as pies. Recent studies have revealed that its…
yoga health benefits
How to practice yoga for astounding health benefits Can a 5000-year-old system be the ultimate body healer? Did you know yoga can make you smarter and…
Vitamin b12
Vitamin B12 Test Vitamin b12 is an essential nutrient required for healthy functioning of the nervous system and also development of…
Chlorella: Therapeutic powers of the billion-year-old algae now within your reach Chlorella - A billion year old nutrient-rich algae that can potentially ward off cancers and high cholesterol; the…
Chest X-Ray A chest x-ray is a diagnostic test that uses x-rays to visualize the structures inside your chest. It…
blood elements analysis
Vitamin Profile Your doctor will recommend you undergo the vitamin profile test if you are showing signs of either vitamin…
woman with abdominal pain holding ovulation calendar
Ovulation – facts to know about ovulation Learn how and when ovulation occurs, demystify common misconceptions, identify symptoms, methods of detection and right period for…
beta 2 glycoprotein 1 igm
Beta 2 Glycoprotein 1 IgM The Beta 2 glycoprotein 1 IgM test detects IgM class of antibodies in the blood.The presence of beta-2…
beta alanine energy powder
Beta-alanine: A powerhouse of proteins to charge up your workout How can a simple amino acid be a crucial health supplement for champion athletes? Find out how you…
apolipoprotein a1 test
Apolipoprotein -A1 (APO-A1) Test Apolipoprotein A-I (Apo-A1) constitutes 70% of protein content in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and helps in lipid metabolism.
Low fat diets
A complete list of low-fat diets and how to follow them Low-fat diets help you lose weight in a healthy way, but it works only with regular exercise and…
anti-chlamydia antibody tets
Anti-Chlamydia Antibody -IgG Test Anti-Chlamydia Antibody - IgG test is performed by collection of urine or genital fluids as sample for testing…
Find all the instant ways to get rid of blackheads Blackheads - Not only are they aesthetically unappealing but if left untreated these can cause bacterial overgrowth on…
GM Diet: The fastest way to lose weight or yet another hoax diet? General Motors started this trend of extreme dieting for 7 straight days to ensure its employees were able…
vital organ diseases
Common diseases that could cripple your vital organs Brain, heart, kidney, lungs, and liver - these vital organs are indeed vital for your survival. However, these…
antiHEV IgM test
Anti hepatitis E virus (Anti HEV) IgM Test Anti HEV IgM test determines the level of the IgM antibodies in the blood, The disease is often…
Creatine: Is this the right peak athletic-performance supplement for you? Creatine is the amino acid that boosts our energy. Did you know creatine supplements can help you reach…
Bloodtestalbumin
Albumin Test Albumin test or blood serum test is a liver function test that measures the amount of the protein…
GERD heartburn
Heartburn: What are the exact symptoms and the best home remedies? There are easy home remedies for heartburn, which not only acts as a first aid when you experience…
Balneotherapy jacuzzi
5 things you didn’t know about balneotherapy and how you can do it at home Sauna baths have been popular since a long time. But how much more beneficial can balneotherapy be as…
eating disorder anorexia
Eating Disorders: Lifestyle choice or a psychological condition? Is eating disorder just a harmless bad habit? Or does it represent grim psychological disorders? Do you want…
hidden causes obesity
8 hidden causes of obesity you probably didn’t know! Did you know that around 2 billion people worldwide are either overweight or obese? Are you too a…
social media adddiction
Your health in the age of Social Media: Why is digital detox a necessity? Did you know that more than 400 million people are dangerously addicted to social media? Are you one…
hepatitis B envelope antigen
Hepatitis B Envelope Antigen (HBeAg) The HBeAg or hepatitis B envelope antigen test is a screening test used to diagnose the onset of…
myelogram
Myelography Myelography is an important diagnostic tool that is used to investigate and identify abnormalities in the spine and…
tonometry
Tonometry Tonometry uses a device called tonometer to measure the pressure inside the eye. This pressure is depends upon…
shakeology woman
Meal replacement or protein drink? Learn all about Shakeology and its claims Shakeology from Beachbody claims to be the most suitable shake that can aid in weight loss, regulate blood…

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