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Anatomy of a Charley Horse

No one knows the origin of the term Charley Horse, but when you are in the grips of one of these awful nocturnal cramps you don't really care if it comes from an early baseball player or an injured race horse. You just want the pain to stop. And just like the origin of the expression, no one has yet to pinpoint a single cause for these cramps. There are many theories as to why they happen — what actions or inactions contribute to them. There are also many steps you can take to prevent them.

A Charley Horse could be caused by overexertion of the muscles, structural disorders like flat feet, prolonged standing on concrete, prolonged sitting, inappropriate leg positions while sedentary (another reason why crossing your legs is really a no-no), or dehydration. Some alternative health practitioners believe magnesium and/or calcium levels are too low, leading to the cramping.

No matter why you get them, you want to know what you can do to avoid them. I suggest staying well hydrated and stretching your calves regularly throughout the day, before bed, and especially if you were wearing high heels for an extended period of time. Light exercise before bed can also help, as can keeping your blankets loose at the foot of your bed since the tight sheets can force the muscles of the foot and calve to engage and then cramp.

Interested in knowing what to do when you get a Charley Horse? Then


Here are a few ways to ease the cramping and the pain:

  • Walk on or jiggle the affected leg and then elevate it.
  • Stretch the calf by straightening your knees and flexing your foot toward your knee.
  • Increase the stretch by actively pulling your toes upward toward your knee.
  • Take a hot shower or warm bath, or apply an ice massage to the cramped muscle.

Sure do hope these help and try to remember to breathe while you are in the throes of a Charley Horse.


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