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What is a Charley Horse? How is Charley Horse Treated?

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Overview of Charley Horse

Charley horse is a term for muscle spasms. It is not limited to a particular muscle or muscle group. This condition can be uncomfortable and can also be quite painful if experienced for significant periods. The condition can arise due to your exercise routine, diet, climate conditions, or stress.

Stretching twice a day, hydrating, eating a balanced diet, exercising with the correct technique, and wearing climate-appropriate clothing can help prevent and ease these spasms.

Further, to understand this condition, it is important to explore its key attributes, symptoms, causes, and treatments. Here is some information regarding the Charley horse.

More about Charley Horse

Charley horse is not restricted to a particular muscle or muscle group in the body. However, it is commonly experienced in the leg muscles and foot muscles. The severity of the pain is directly linked to the amount of time it takes for the spasm to relax.

Charley horse is often confused with another type of spasm or cramp known as a dead leg. These are two different conditions with very similar symptoms. Charley horse is when the muscles in your body contract without any warning and are known to last anywhere between a few seconds to an entire day. A dead leg is often caused by blunt force trauma to the leg, causing the muscles to spasm.

It is important to differentiate between the two conditions because, if frequently experienced, Charley horse can signify underlying health conditions. This condition is often treatable at home and is not considered as a serious condition.

What Are the Causes of the Charley Horse?

It is important to understand the causes of the Charley horse before exploring its symptoms and treatments. There are various reasons to experience a spasm with no warning. Some of these include the following:

  • Issues with blood flow to the muscle
  • Prior injuries
  • Exercise performed in extreme climates
  • Muscle fatigue due to overuse of a muscle group
  • Stress
  • Compression of a nerve in the spine
  • Lack of flexibility and mobility in the affected muscle groups
  • Low potassium levels
  • Lack of sodium in the blood
  • Low levels of calcium
  • Dehydration

There is a common myth that a tumor is a cause for muscle spasms. While the pain caused by a tumor may feel similar, they are not muscle spasms. A tumor is neither a cause nor a symptom of a muscle spasm.

Other causes of a Charley horse spasm can be specific to an underlying condition or a medication you may be on.

What Are the Symptoms of Charley Horse?

The very first step towards relieving this uncomfortable condition is to understand its symptoms. Following are some common symptoms of a Charley horse spasm:

  • Sharp pain in the affected muscle
  • A lump of tissue underneath the skin which is often knotted muscles
  • A tightening of muscle groups that center around the affected muscle that spreads outwards

Symptoms can be experienced between a few seconds to an entire day. If you experience these symptoms for more than 48 hours, please seek medical attention.

How to Prevent Charley Horse?

Before exploring treatments, let us first discuss preventive techniques for the condition. This type of spasm can be prevented in numerous ways. Some of these include:

  • Perform adequate stretches before a workout
  • Ensure that you build into a workout by warming up and cooling down your muscles
  • Staying hydrated
  • Make sure you stretch first thing in the morning and just before bed
  • Manage your mineral levels to keep your sodium, potassium, and calcium levels within the recommended range
  • Eat a balanced and nutritious diet
  • Appropriately dress when exercising in extreme climates
  • Maintain your electrolyte levels through enough intake of fluid . Make sure your salt and sugar levels stay replenished when you are working out at higher intensity .

For more prevention techniques, consult your physician.

What Are the Available Treatments for Charley Horse?

Treatments for Charley horse can range from home remedies to physical therapy; most cases of Charley horse spasms are minor and can be treated with simple stretches and home remedies.

Some home remedies for Charley horse are as follows:

  • Heat Compressions. Place a heat pack on and around the muscle that is affected by the condition to help relax the muscle and improve blood flow.
  • Cold Compression. Cold packs work in cohesion with heat packs. They help contract the muscle groups and increase blood flow in the area. This then relaxes the muscle in spasm.
  • Oil Massages. Massaging the affected muscle with oils will help regulate and improve blood flow. The flow of blood speeds up recovery. It is key to stretch the region affected with your palms for a few seconds before using your thumb to massage the affected muscle. Doing this will improve the effects of the massage as a whole.
  • Rest. One of the most important recovery tools our body possesses is rest. By resting, the body will not exacerbate  the spasms while also speeding up recovery.
  • Muscle-specific Stretches. Most spasms can be managed through the aid of stretches. In severe cases, your doctor will either ask you to do specific stretches or will ask you to see a physiotherapist who will help you stretch. Through stretching, your muscle relaxes and works similar to compressions in improving blood regulation.

 In more serious cases, doctors may prescribe medication and physical therapy. This is rare, though. Medication for Charley horse include the following:

  • Doctors will often prescribe OTC painkillers for the management of pain if there are no underlying conditions to treat.
  • Medication to treat underlying symptoms, if any. These include medication for diabetes.
  • Muscle relaxants depending on the severity of the spasms.
  • Vitamin B complex.

Further treatment options include:

  • Ultrasound therapy.
  • Physiotherapeutic massages.
  • Other forms of physical therapy.

These forms of therapy are only prescribed if the spasms are very frequent.

Some doctors believe a prescription of vitamin B complex may help ease muscle spasms. It can be tried as taking vitamin B complex is relatively safe.

Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment

What Are the Risk Factors of Charley Horse?

There are a few people who are more at risk for Charley horse than others. Here are some risk factors for this condition:

  • Age. As you grow older, the risk of experiencing muscle spasms increases. You must take preventive measures regularly as you age.
  • Anemia. Charley horse affects those who suffer from anemia. To help avoid this, consult your doctor and take the required supplements and consume a balanced diet.
  • Pregnancy. Much like anemia, pregnancy can cause mineral and vitamin imbalances leading to a Charley horse. It is recommended that you consult your obstetrician for the required preventive measures.
  • Underlying Health Conditions. Numerous health conditions can put you at risk for a muscle spasm, including obesity. Please consult your doctor for conditions that put you at risk for spasms.


Muscle spasms or Charley horse are very common conditions that affect everyone. It is not a condition that is dangerous in itself. However, it can be indicative of underlying illnesses like diabetes, vitamin D deficiencies, etc. This is why it is very important to see a doctor if you experience a spasm for more than 2 days continuously.

Charley horse spasms, while uncomfortable, are not considered emergencies. Thus, it is not recommended that you immediately seek medical advice from an orthopedic specialist but only visit if the pain becomes unbearable.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1.  Can Muscle Spasms Cause Disability?

No, there is no evidence that experiencing a muscle spasm can cause any form of disability. This condition is very uncomfortable, especially if the spasms are frequent, but they are not dangerous.

  1. Does a Charley Horse Require Physiotherapy?

In extreme cases, yes. Most cases of Charley horse are very common and can be treated with home remedies with preventive measures and OTC painkillers. In the rarest and most extreme cases, you may need to see a physiotherapist.

  1. Can a Charley Horse Indicate a Tumor?

Yes and no. While there are instances where a tumor has been found due to pain similar to a Charley horse, this was not due to the condition itself. Muscle spasms are not signs of tumors.

  1. How Long Should I Maintain Heat Compressions for a Charley Horse?

It depends. A heat compression can be used along with cold compressions in 30-second cycles till the pain and spasms become manageable. You can also add a 30-second stretch and massage between the compressions.

Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment

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