Charley horse, Leg cramps


Charley horse is another name for muscle spasm. It can occur in any muscle, but they’re most common in the legs. These spasms are marked by uncomfortable muscle contractions.

Charley horses are generally treatable at home, especially if they’re infrequent. However, frequent muscle spasms are often linked to underlying health conditions that need medical treatment.

Causes of a Charley horse

The most common causes include:

  • nerve compression in the spine
  • taking diuretics, which can lead to low potassium levels
  • stress, most often in the neck muscles
  • muscle injuries
  • inadequate blood flow to the muscle
  • exercising in excessive heat or cold
  • overuse of a specific muscle during exercise
  • mineral depletion, or having too little calcium, potassium, and sodium in the blood
  • dehydration
  • not stretching before exercise

Treatment for a Charley horse

The treatment for Charley horses depends on the underlying cause. If a Charley horse is exercise-induced, simple stretches and massages can help relax the muscle and stop it from contracting.

Heating pads can accelerate the relaxation process, while an ice pack can help numb the pain. If your muscle is still sore after a muscle spasm, your doctor may recommend a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen.

Recurrent Charley horses require more aggressive treatment. Your doctor may prescribe alternative pain medications if ibuprofen doesn’t help.

In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe antispasmodic medication. Also, physical therapy can help you cope with muscle spasms and prevent further complications.

If your Charley horse is in your leg, you can try to relieve the pain by doing the following stretches:

  • standing up
  • stepping the leg that isn’t experiencing muscle cramping forward into a lunge
  • straightening the back of the leg that is experiencing the cramp and lunging forward on the front leg


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