From Stiffness to Relief: How to Overcome a Charley Horse

Blog Post
By South Valley Vascular
September 8, 2023

When suffering from a charley horse, it can be hard to tell just when relief is coming. We’re going to take a closer look at the familiar injury and the best ways to go from stiffness to relief.

What Causes Charley Horses?

So, what causes charley horses? Charley horses are a particular type of muscle spasm affecting the legs. When a muscle spasms, it suddenly tightens on its own and can’t relax. They can happen anywhere in the body but are common in the legs and feet.

These cramps are typically harmless and usually last just seconds or minutes. They can typically be relieved at home with stretching. Muscle cramps don’t just happen during exercise – they can happen at any time, even when asleep or sitting still.

Charley horses can be triggered by poor blood flow, overexerting muscles, or not stretching enough before exercise. Similarly, activity in high temperatures or while dehydrated also encourages muscle spasms like Charley horses.

Charley horses can also be attributable to a lack of magnesium or potassium in the diet, nerve injuries, or in rare cases, kidney disease. Likewise, certain medication interactions can trigger muscle spasms, including charley horses.

Risk Factors

Certain people have a greater risk factor for getting a charley horse. They include older adults, athletes, pregnant women, overweight or obese people, and people with certain conditions. Moreover, conditions that are risk factors include diabetes, thyroid disorders, liver disease, and nerve disorders.

Charley Horse Symptoms

Most charley corse symptoms focus on the muscle cramp itself. The muscle will tighten up and feel locked down or locked in place. It will be painful and happen suddenly, even if just lying down or sleeping.

Charley Horse Treatments

As appropriate for a muscle spasm, most charley horse treatments focus on stretching the affected area. Certain stretches can help depending if the muscle affected is in the front or back of the leg.

For charley horses in the calf or hamstring, put weight on the affected leg and bend the knee slightly. If that doesn’t work, sit down with your leg out straight, pulling the top of the foot towards your head.

For charley horses in the front of the thigh or quadriceps, start by finding a sturdy chair. Holding onto the chair, bend the knee of the affected leg. Pull the foot up towards your buttocks, which will encourage the tension to release.

In either event, a massage, an Epsom salt bath, or a heating pad can all help relax the muscle. Use an ice pack if necessary, or take over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen.

Charley Horse Prevention

There’s little that can be done to prevent charley horses, but certain steps can be taken to reduce the risk.

This begins with a healthy diet. Eat more foods high in vitamins and magnesium, and remember to stay hydrated. With these necessary nutrients and water, fewer muscle spasms will trigger.

Stretch daily and before exercise. Stretching before exercise loosens the muscles and reduces the risk of suddenly overexerting them. This should lead to fewer charley horses and fewer muscle spasms in general.

Also, when exercising, ramp up exercise slowly instead of going full-speed immediately. This gives the muscles time to relax before fully exerting themselves. Likewise, avoid exercising immediately after eating.
Wearing comfortable shoes has many benefits for your legs and feet, including reducing the risk of a charley horse.

Alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration, which leads to more muscle spasms. Limiting how much alcohol you drink should contribute to lessening spasms.

Overcome Your Charley Horse with Help from South Valley Vascular

Now that you know how to find relief for your charley horse in calf, look for it at South Valley Vascular. South Valley Vascular is your destination in the South Bay for treating charley horses or other vascular problems. 

South Valley Vascular’s friendly, board-certified vascular specialists will answer any questions or concerns you might have about your charley horse. Call or schedule an appointment today for more information!