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What Causes Charley Horses

What Causes Charley Horses

Charley horses can be caused by a number of factors like too much strenuous exercise, dehydration, pregnancy, electrolyte imbalance, etc. Due to any of these mentioned factors, the muscles contract and enter a spasm stage.
Priya Johnson
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
Charley horses is a condition referring to the muscle spasms occurring suddenly in the calf muscles of the leg. It mostly occurs at night, when you are peacefully dozing off in your bed. Its sudden occurrence takes the wind off your sails, and leaves you writhing in agony due to the locking of the muscle in a particular contracted position. People going through these cramps lose complete control over their calf muscle and are unable to use them. This agonizing pain can be caused by several factors such as:
Mineral Imbalance
Maintenance of proper electrolyte balance in the body is very essential, as an imbalance can conduce to leg cramps. The mineral potassium is responsible for regulating blood pressure and heartbeat, so a deficiency of potassium causes leg cramps, poor blood circulation, muscle weakness, fatigue, and memory problems. Other minerals like magnesium, calcium, and vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin E, etc., also help maintain fluid balance within the cell walls, thereby not permitting them to go into a spasm. Their deficiency can trigger this condition, so it's important to have a healthy balanced diet.
Dehydration
During training, athletes are told how important water intake is for their bodies; to keep dehydration at bay. However, most of us non-athletes conveniently forget to drink enough water everyday. Inadequate intake of water on a daily basis conduces to muscle cramps at night. Drink 6-8 glasses of water everyday and keep yourself hydrated, lest you want to be attacked by cramps in the middle of the night.
Pregnancy
As pregnant women gain weight through the carrying months, the amount of blood pressure increases and blood circulation decreases. The blood begins to accumulate in the legs due to bad circulation and spearheads muscle cramps. It could also be because of the nutrition loss from mother's body to the baby's body. Since, the baby receives nutrition from the mother's blood, an inadequate amount of nutrition intake will result in less mineral left over in the mother's body. This in turn leads to muscle cramps in pregnant women.
Wearing the Wrong Shoes
Wearing inappropriate, extremely tight-fitting, non-padded shoes can result in these muscle cramps. Moreover, sometimes muscle cramps also occur after wearing a new pair of shoes.
Periods of Physical Exertion
Athletes often experience muscle cramps in the beginning of a season, when their bodies are not yet conditioned completely to the training routine. Moreover, they can also occur in anybody undergoing physical exertion. Charley horses are actually the result of late responses of the muscles after strenuous exercise, so, the next time you go to a gym don't overdo it.
Besides these causes, some other causative factors of this condition are as follows:
  • Diabetes
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Vascular problems
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach flu
  • Kidney dialysis
  • Extreme changes in temperature
  • Lack of stretching before exercise
  • Irritation to the nerve connecting the muscles
  • Some prescription drugs (hydrochlorothiazide-type diuretics, beta blockers, and ACE inhibitors)
If you wake up at night with these agonizing cramps, gently massage your calf muscle and get someone to have a hot or cold compress ready to apply it to the spasm area. Or else you can stretch your calf muscles by grabbing hold of your toes and slowly pulling them towards you until they resolve. Sometimes, Charley horses can be indicators of serious underlying conditions, so, visit the health care provider as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.