What Causes Charlie Horse Cramps In Legs: Symptoms And Treatment

The phrase Charlie horse is nothing but agonizing cramp in body muscle. Muscle spasm can occur in any part of the body, but the term is generally used for cramps in the leg muscles. When the muscle is in spasm, it contracts involuntarily for a prolonged period, sometimes for minutes without relaxing. Why should cramps in legs be called ‘Charlie Horse’ is still a subject of speculation. The term according to some people was coined after a player called Charley got severe spasm in his leg muscle while playing baseball somewhere in 1880’s.

Causes Of Charlie Horse Cramps

There are several causes that can trigger cramps in leg muscles. Anyone can suffer from muscle cramps, but athletes, obese individuals and elderly persons are at a greater risk of suffering from it. Given below are important reasons for contraction of leg muscles.

  • Several hours after exercising due to build up of lactic acid in the muscles.
  • Overuse of muscles. For example walking for four miles on a treadmill at a constant speed. If you over exercise more than what you do regularly.
  • Micro injuries to leg muscles.
  • Dehydration, leading to decrease of electrolytes or rather imbalance in body electrolytes. Diarrhea or playing sports in hot summer weather without adequately re-hydrating with fluids. Lack of potassium is usually the triggering cause for cramps in legs due to dehydration.
  • Herniated spinal disk can lead to pain and spasm of leg muscles as the nerves supplying these muscles get irritated.
  • If you lie or sit in awkward position that may affect the circulation.
  • If you do not stretch sufficiently before doing exercise or play games.
  • Medicine side effects.
  • Pregnancy. The growing uterus may compress the vessels supplying leg muscles.

Signs And Symptoms Of Charlie Horse

  • Sudden contraction of muscles leads to severe agonizing pain and spasm.
  • Usually leg muscles are involved. Calf muscles, quadriceps, and hamstrings are also involved.
  • Cramps in leg muscles may not last more than a minute, but if it is severe it can last for more than few minutes.
  •  Due to awkward position while sleeping may cause disturbance in circulation and leg cramps. It can wake up the person from his sleep.
  • Leg muscles feel tight and knotty when they are in spasm. Stretching of leg during this period may cause more pain.
  • Person can experience twitching of muscles.
  • Tender on touch.

Treatment For Charlie Horse In Legs

When suffering from a Charlie horse in middle of an athletic run, or during an exercise routine, nothing comes to your mind other than getting rid of the cramp.

  • To keep the muscle as relaxed as possible from the cramp, place the leg in such anatomical position where it is least likely to strain or stretch the muscle.
  • With gradual relaxation after some time, gentle massage may help to relieve the spasm. Slowly knead with your fingers to the area of soreness. Once the sore area is located, apply ice and warmth alternately. This will help the circulation and bring the necessary nutrients at a faster pace. It will also expel the collected waste.
  • Meanwhile take some potassium rich food. What else other than potassium rich banana is beneficial in such circumstances? Drink a glass of warm milk which contains calcium. Drinking sports drink is also worthwhile.
  • If pain is not relieved with gentle massage and stretching after some time, you can take anti-inflammatory tablet after consulting your doctor.
  • Soaking in a bath tub with warm water added with some Epsom salt for half hour will ease the painful cramp.
  • If the cramps in legs occur of and on, vitamin supplementation is helpful. Vitamin E is particularly beneficial in reducing the spasm.
  • If the problem is associated with spinal disk problems, physiotherapy and acupressure are other alternative variants of the treatment.

To prevent Charlie horse, drink enough water and fluids. It will prevent dehydration and subsequently cramps in legs. Athletes should always drink sports drink at several intervals while practicing.

If the weather is very hot, and if you perspire a lot, replenish your boy with fluids and liquids. Also stretch before exercising. Before going to sleep, do mild stretching if you are getting cramps in the middle of the night.

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