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What Causes Charley Horses?


WRITTEN BY: UPMC
Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Charley horses, painful muscle spasms usually in the leg or foot, can happen to people of all ages and lifestyles. Worse yet, they can strike at any time of the day or night, though it’s common to have muscle cramps while sleeping.

Although they appear to happen randomly, some habits and conditions have been linked to charley horses, and there are steps you can take to prevent them.

What Is a Charley Horse?

A charley horse is another name for a muscle spasm, which is when a muscle contracts and will not relax. Muscle spasms can happen to any muscle in the body, but they are most common in the leg and foot. During a muscle spasm, the muscle becomes hard and tight and may be tender to the touch. After the spasm subsides, the muscle may be sore for hours or even days.

Charley Horse Causes

While there is no definite cause for charley horses, several factors make their occurrence more likely, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Exercising in very hot or cold temperatures
  • Overusing the muscle
  • Stress
  • Poor blood flow/circulation
  • Not getting enough vitamins/minerals
  • Standing or sitting too long without moving
  • Malfunctioning nerves
  • Certain medications

How to Treat Charley Horses

Most of the time, muscle spasms resolve on their own. To help ease the pain when they happen, you can try one of the following:

  • Apply heat during the cramp and ice after it ends
  • Gently stretch the muscle
  • Massage the muscle

The best treatment for charley horses is prevention. You can take steps to prevent them by:

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Stretching before and after exercise
  • Eating foods high in magnesium, potassium, and calcium
  • Wearing comfortable, supportive shoes
Learn how to prevent charley horses with just a few, simple steps! Click To Tweet

In some cases, repeated charley horses can be the result of nerve issues, which can be diagnosed with an MRI scan. If you experience muscle spasms frequently, they may be a symptom of an underlying health condition, and you should consult your doctor.

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UPMC

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