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Life in Motion

What is a Charley Horse and How Can I Ease My Muscle Cramp?

Health & Prevention

A “Charley Horse” is another name for a muscle spasm, which causes your muscles to contract painfully for several seconds.  While they can happen in any muscle, they are most common in the legs. A Charley horse can be caused by many different things including muscle injuries, stress, overuse, not stretching enough, or dehydration.

Anyone can develop a Charley horse, but they are most commonly experienced by the elderly and by athletes. According to a study from AARP, one-third to one-half of people over 60 years old get these involuntary muscle contractions on a daily basis. According to the National Institute on Aging, not drinking enough water, poor muscle conditioning and certain medications are factors that make people more susceptible to getting a Charley horse as they age. Athletes are also prone to Charley horses as they have an increased chance of overexerting a muscle during exercise or developing a muscle injury, which are two contributing factors.

There are a few ways you can ease the pain from your Charley horse. Drinking electrolytes and stretching can help to keep your muscles loose, as well as trying to take breaks from sitting for long periods of time. Applying an ice pack for 10-15 minutes following strenuous exercise can also calm down muscle tension.  If a Charley horse comes on rapidly in the back of your leg or calf, here are some tips to help calm your muscles:

  • Try walking around and keep your legs moving for a couple minutes or until the cramp eases
  • While seated, keep your cramped leg outstretched in front of you with your knee straight. Point your toes upwards and reach towards that toe until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your leg.
  • Wrap an ice pack in a t-shirt or pillow case and apply to the cramping muscle for 10-15 minutes

If you are experiencing muscle cramps regularly, ask your doctor for further advice and treatment.

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