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Charley Horse in Calf Muscles

Charley Horse in Calf Muscles

Many sportsmen and people, who workout regularly tend to experience a painful condition known as Charley horse in the calf region. Elucidated below are the various causes, symptoms, and treatment offered for the condition in question.
Aparna Jadhav
Last Updated: May 5, 2018
Did You Know?
This medical condition may have got its name after a baseball pitcher, Charles Radbourn -- also called "Old Hoss" -- who experienced a painful and involuntary muscular contraction, right in the middle of a game.

"Charley horse" is a term colloquially used by North Americans and is a common problem, which occurs in the calf muscle of an individual's leg in the form of spasms or cramps. The muscles in the calf region experience tormenting pain, especially at night. During this spasm, the concerned muscle contracts suddenly without any slightest indication beforehand. The individual experiencing the pain feels his calf muscles getting locked in a particular contracted position, losing all control over that muscle and finding it impossible to use it. He cannot figure out what triggered it, but all he wants is, for it to go away. There are many reasons for this condition to occur and most of the time, the signs and symptoms are ignored.

Alternate Term: "Horse Gummit"
Pain Lasts for: Few minutes to a couple of hours
Deficiency of: Potassium, magnesium, calcium, and water
Common Among: Teenagers, sportspersons, pregnant women, and people aged 60 and above
For Instant Relief: Eat a banana, or drink almond milk, or orange juice


Causes
  • Charley horse can be caused, basically due to any straining exercise, or sudden activity changes done during the day. The response to this strain is experienced mainly late at night after the body is relaxed completely. While sleeping, the sudden muscle cramp experienced is a result of the deep contraction of the calf muscle.
  • It also might be the result of an electrolyte and/or mineral imbalance in the body. Low levels of minerals, like calcium and potassium in the body can lead to the sudden occurrences of Charley horse in the calf muscles.
  • Kidney dialysis has been observed as one of the causes of this condition, but it is experienced on a very minor level.
  • When the liquid content of the body lowers down (dehydration) due to excessive exercise in the day, it can also lead to painful spasms.
  • For pregnant women, there is enough weight already felt on the calf and other leg muscles. It is a common condition experienced during pregnancy and happens because of taking too much physical stress.
  • In some rare cases, spasms may occur due to irritation of the nerve that is connected to the calf muscle. This is sometimes felt after swimming, or by thrusting the legs forcefully.
  • It can also be a side effect of certain medicines.

Symptoms
  • Leg muscles become stiff, sore, rigid, and very painful
  • Watery eyes, loss of strength/energy, and lack of sleep may be experienced.
  • Severe cramps (tingling, tickling, itching, or burning sensation) are felt in other parts of the body, like the foot, thighs, abdomen, hands, upper back, and arms.

Treatment
  • The first thing you should do is stretch the cramped muscle (in the opposite direction of the spasm) very slowly as jerks can worsen the existing pain. If you can't, then massage it with your fingers and gently stretch it out.
  • Apply ice packs on the affected area, or take a nice hot shower. Then stretch the leg slowly and try standing by bending the knees slightly. It will soothe the aching muscles and reduce the pain when you stretch.
  • Consume foods and fruits rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium, like bananas, avocados, orange juice, flax seeds, dairy products, and nuts.
  • If the pain is recurrent in nature, then make sure you stack up foods, which are high in nutrients, like calcium and potassium. This should be done especially in case of pregnant women.
  • Remember to stretch well before every exercise to avoid overexertion of the muscles.
  • After a strenuous workout or exercise, wait for some time and then drink plenty of water, or glucose with electrolytes. This will act as a good muscle pain reliever and will replenish your body from all its imbalances.
  • Keep a balanced and healthy diet throughout the day, and remember to stay hydrated at all times.
If you follow the above-mentioned treatment options, the pain will be reduced to quite an extent. Nevertheless, if the pain still persists, or recurs frequently, then consult a doctor immediately.

Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.