Charley horse is a famous term used for muscle spasms, especially when they occur in the leg. This HealthHearty article will give you a brief information about these nasty spasms that tend to occur without any prior warning.
You must have experienced a charley horse, especially on a night when you are dead tired. The episode lasts for a few seconds, and in some cases, for a few minutes. These leg cramps commonly occur at night, but may be experienced anytime and anywhere―while running at the park, or while changing your position while sleeping.
Charley horses are most commonly observed in the calf. However, muscle spasms are not limited to legs, and can also occur in regions such as, the abdomen, arms, hands, and along the rib cage. These occur when the muscles involuntarily contract and remain in the same position for a long time.
These cramps should not be confused with restless leg syndrome, where you tend to feel as if there is something walking or crawling down your leg. It makes you feel restless, making you change the position of your legs often. On the other hand, in case of muscle spasms, you feel a sudden muscle contraction. This spasm is so intense that you have to get up and massage your leg. You may also feel a tight knot in the area, which may also be visible beneath the skin’s surface.
There are several causes of these spasms including electrolyte imbalances that involve magnesium, calcium, potassium, and sodium. These imbalances occur due to excessive sweating in hot climates, dehydration, and some medical problems. In some cases, excessive exercising may also lead to charley horses. It is especially seen in people who do not exercise regularly, or carry out too much exercise too soon. Sometimes, medications like antipsychotics, blood pressure medications, heart medications, diuretics, etc., also lead to these cramps. These medications alter the electrolyte level of potassium, sodium, and calcium. People on dialysis also tend to suffer from changes in potassium and sodium levels. Women experience these cramps during pregnancy due to poor blood supply to their lower limbs.
Hormonal imbalances also lead to muscle spasms during pregnancy. Some other causes include:
- Muscle fatigue
- Extreme temperature changes
- Oxygen depletion in muscles
- Sitting, standing, or keeping the legs in the same position for a long time
These cramps are not very serious, but in some cases, they may indicate a health problem. However, for normal instances, some self-care measures may prove to be of help. These include, immediately massaging the cramped muscles, gently stretching the muscles by extending your leg, taking a hot bath, and keeping your body well-hydrated. You can even try walking for some time, after the spasms subside. This will help increase blood flow to the affected muscles.
The best way to prevent these cramps is to stay hydrated. You should drink 6 to 8 glasses of water throughout the day. Also, make sure you drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after an exercise session. You should drink electrolyte-rich drinks such as Gatorade, to avoid cramping while exercising. You should stretch regularly to relax your muscles to avoid muscle cramps. Warm up before and after exercises, as well as before you go to bed. Pregnant women should try a light massage that does not put too much pressure on the cramped muscles. They should avoid pointing their toes, as it will aggravate the cramps in the calf. Eat a banana along with a glass of milk to overcome potassium imbalances.
Charley horse does not require medical attention in most cases. However, those who suffer from frequent cramps need to get their blood analyzed. It may help indicate an electrolyte imbalance. In some cases, they may be advised muscle relaxants by the doctor.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.