What is a Charley Horse in Legs and Should I Be Concerned?

Blog Post
By South Valley Vascular
December 6, 2022

Experiencing a charley horse is extremely common and, in most cases, not a major concern. Still, a charley horse in legs can be highly uncomfortable and momentarily affect mobility. Charley horses are very common and can be caused by many factors. Anyone can be affected by a charley horse, although some individuals are at greater risk than others. In most cases, you only need to be concerned about a charley horse if they are experienced along with other lingering symptoms.

What is a Charley Horse?

A charley horse is a common name given to a muscle spasm or cramp. The most common place for a charley horse is in the legs, but they can occur anywhere on the body. When experiencing a charley horse, you will likely experience sudden and intense muscle pain. Most people experience Charley horses in their calves or quadriceps. 

Most Charley horses are experienced during times of high physical activity or exercise. The most common causes of a charley horse in the legs are improper stretching or dehydration. If you fail to stretch enough before physical activity, your muscles may be too tight. This can cause them to seize up from overuse, causing a charley horse. Likewise, failing to drink enough fluids can also lead to poorer muscle performance, resulting in a charley horse. Charley horses can be especially common on hot days. This is one of many reasons why it is important to stay well-hydrated when engaged in physical activities in warm weather.

Not all Charley horses are linked to physical activity, however. Some individuals may be at greater risk of experiencing a charley horse due to underlying conditions. Pregnancy, diabetes, obesity, old age, and certain medications all increase the risk of experiencing a charley horse.

How to Get Rid of A Charley Horse

Anyone who experiences a charley horse likely just wants to know how to get rid of a charley horse. Luckily, these muscle spasms don’t usually last very long. Symptoms can often be alleviated rather simply and quickly.

When experiencing a charley horse in the legs, stretching the affected area usually relieves the pain quickly. Basic calf and quad stretches are usually effective at eliminating any lingering pain after a charley horse.

Massage can also be effective to get rid of muscle pain. You can gently knead your sore muscles to loosen them up when experiencing a charley horse in the legs. Applying heat can have a similar effect. If possible, you might apply a heating pad or hot towel, or take a hot bath to relieve charley horse symptoms.

While heat can relax your muscles, ice can also be used to reduce inflammation. Relaxing your leg while applying ice to the charley horse is another effective treatment. Alternatively, you might simply take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen to eliminate a charley horse.

In most cases, there is no need to be concerned about a charley horse. They are common and can be caused by brief or minor muscle spasms. However, there are rare circumstances where a charley horse could be a sign of something more serious.

If you experience lingering pain after a charley horse along with nausea or vomiting, weakness, numbness, or excessive perspiration you may require medical attention. These symptoms can all be associated with dehydration, which, if left untreated, can cause serious health complications or death. 

If you experience frequent Charley horses, they may be linked to vascular complications like varicose veins or peripheral artery disease. Speaking to a doctor about your vascular health and undergoing treatment can resolve most lingering issues associated with vascular deficiencies. If you have questions or concerns about your vascular health, schedule a consultation with South Valley Vascular today.