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You Asked: Charley Horses Caused by Cardio?

You're asking, and I'm answering . . .

Hey Fit!
For the past few weeks I have been experiencing incredibly painful Charley Horses in my sleep once or twice a week. I have never endured this kind of cramping before, and it is beginning to interrupt my sleep schedule, not to mention my workout schedule. I do at least an hour of cardio every day (usually on the elliptical or treadmill) and I'm not sure if I should stop or if the Charley Horses are completely unrelated! What do you think?
Charley Horse Girl

I was plagued by Charley Horses when I was pregnant, so I can totally relate to how disruptive they can be. To see my suggestions on dealing with these nocturnal cramps, just


Many people are plagued by nighttime cramps in their calves, but a single cause for Charley Horses has yet to be discovered. There are many theories as to why they happen, so there are also many steps you can take to prevent them.

A Charley Horse could be caused by overexertion of the calf muscles, structural disorders like flat feet, prolonged standing on concrete, prolonged sitting, inappropriate leg positions while sedentary (another reason why not to cross your legs), or dehydration.

From the sounds of it, your daily cardio could be contributing for two reasons: overexertion and dehydration. When using the elliptical, make sure to keep your heels down to prevent your calves from overworking. Focus on the back of your leg doing the majority of the work. If you're a toe runner, you might want to aim to strike closer to your mid-sole than your toes when working on the treadmill, which could lessen the amount of stress you're putting on your calves. Regardless of how you run, after any form of cardio you need to spend a serious amount of time stretching your calves. Here are some calf stretches you should try.

After working out, make sure to replenish all the fluids that you have lost. Low blood levels of the minerals potassium, sodium, calcium, or magnesium caused by dehydration can lead to cramping. Many sports drinks contain these important electrolytes; so try sipping a sports drink while your exercising, as well as after.

If you have flat feet, I would seriously consider seeing a podiatrist to have orthotics (customized shoe inserts) made for your sneakers. Keeping your foot properly supported will help avoid overtaxing your calf muscles when working out.

Lastly, try keeping your blanket and sheets loose at the foot of your bed since the tight sheets can force the muscles of the foot and calf to engage and then cramp.

Sure do hope this helps.


Join The Conversation
CNAY4811 CNAY4811 8 years
I'm in physical therapy school and I teach aerobics practically every day...believe me, these cramps are no stranger! You don't have to change your workout schedule...just make sure that you are drinking lots of water before, during, and after your workouts, taking a multivitamin every day (that should cover all of the daily potassium you need) and STRETCHING after your workout. The muscle belly that is cramping up is your gastrocnemius (calf). The best, easiest stretch is to find a wall, put your toes on the wall keeping your heel on the ground and lean your upper body right into the wall...hold for at least 30 seconds, then switch legs. Also, try this same stretch with a slightly bent knee and you'll tackle the soleus (another cramp culprit)!
cravinsugar cravinsugar 8 years
you know what i hate? when you get those toe cramps that don't go away until you take your toe and set it into it's normal position again. AG! I know i need more potassium with those, but it's so weird!
innaaiz innaaiz 8 years
I used to get these cramps at night a few times a week - and would usually wake up about a second before one would 'strike'. they were so painful, they literally made me cry. About a month ago - i got surgery on both my feet - and could not contract my feet b/c they were really tightly bandaged and still recovering from the surgery. I would still wake up every once in a while - feeling like i was about to get a charlie horse - but the feeling would go away right away. I think my inability to tense up my feet was what kept the charlie horse from happening. If you can remember to not scrunch up your foot when you are about to get one - that will prevent the cramp from coming on.
runfaster runfaster 8 years
Drinking more water helps me avoid cramps the most. Gatorade works too but usually I don't really need it unless I haven't been drinking enough water throughout the day. Taking a bath with a few big handfuls of epsom salt seems to prevent cramps for me. (I like to stretch in the bath, too.)
Peaches519 Peaches519 8 years
Kiwifruit help more than bananas. They pack a one-two punch of vitamin c and potassium. When I began getting muscle cramps recently, which is unusual for me, I tried substituting kiwifruits for pears at breakfast, since I already eat a banana ever day. So far, so good! No more cramps for me!
xtinabeena xtinabeena 8 years
this happens to me occasionally... usually when i'm dehydrated or when i need to up my intake of sodium or potassium. SUCKS though.
mondaymoos mondaymoos 8 years
tlsgirl, that's what worked for me too. Drinking more water, eating a banana after working out. I haven't had a problem since.
hippiecowgirl hippiecowgirl 8 years
I hate charley horses. Great tips. Thanks, Fit!
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
i completely relate to this. i work out just about every day and on the days that i don't, i've found that i'll get a cramp in the middle of the night and not just one of those 'flex your foot and it goes away' types...but a major one. i've tried to add more potassium to my diet and even ate a banana each morning even though they scare me. (yes i'm scared of a banana). i think tht the over using the calf muscles is my problem, but i feel like there's no way around that one since working out is my stress releiver and it makes me feel less depressed.
ShedItandGetIt ShedItandGetIt 8 years
I get them in my sleep too! When one strikes, make your foot as flat as possible, and that usually helps stop it.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 8 years
Try eating a banana once a day to replenish potassium. It really helps!
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