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Charley Horse: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms and Home Remedies

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When charley horse strikes, you will surely know about it. That’s because it is characterized by a really painful cramping of the muscle. Just about any muscle in your body may end up with it, but it usually occurs in the legs. No matter if you’re at the office or sleeping, charley horse may leave you in a great deal of pain.

In layman’s terms, charley horse is known as muscle spasm. This means that the affected muscle contracts involuntarily. The problem with it is it can cause great discomfort — so much so that it may actually leave the affected muscle sore for a few hours or even an entire day. Usually, charley horse is not a life-threatening matter. However, something that takes place frequently needs to be evaluated by a doctor.


There are many different things that may leave you with a bout of charley horse. One of the most common causes is dehydration. The painful muscle spasm may strike if you are exercising intensively and you are not taking enough fluids to replace lost ones. Failure to stretch your muscles before exercising puts you at risk of it. Overusing your muscles as well as working out in extreme temperatures can also cause charley horse.

Muscle injuries can increase your likelihood of experiencing a painful episode of charley horse. Sometimes the intake of diuretics can cause it to strike. A nerve compression in the spine may be the culprit behind your charley horse, most especially if the problem is recurrent in nature.

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Risk Factors

Just about anyone can end up with charley horse. No matter your age or gender, you are not impervious to it. It may happen at any time of the day, including while you are in your sleep — charley horse that happens while you are dreamland will certainly wake you up because of the sheer pain!

Experts say that athletes are at higher risk of suffering from charley horse as they tend to overuse their muscles. The same is true for smokers as well as obese individuals due to poor blood circulation in the lower extremities. Older adults may be frequently bugged by charley horse. The intake of drugs whose side effect includes the elimination of excess water is also regarded as a risk factor.


The classic symptom of charley horse is severe pain that occurs in the affected muscle. The muscle that is undergoing spasm may feel very tight. Because of the severity of the involuntary contraction, it’s not uncommon for the muscle to end up swollen for a few hours. Sometimes it may last for an entire day.

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OTC pain medications may be taken to help relieve the discomfort brought about by charley horse. A doctor may prescribe a strionger pain reliever if the OTC kind fails to work. Antispasmodic drugs may be prescribed in severe cases of charley horse. Physical therapy may be beneficial for some.

There are instances wherein surgery may be warranted. This is especially true if a nerve compression is the root cause of the frequent bouts of charley horse.

Home Remedies

Some of the best home remedies for charley horse are the following:

  • Massage. As soon as charley horse strikes, gently massage the affected muscle with your fingers. Use circular motions to help relieve the cramping.
  • Stretch. Most of the time, stretching the affected muscle can put your agony to an end. While lying or sitting, you may point your toes towards your face. You may also stand up and tiptoe.
  • Cool compress. Place some ice cubes in a plastic bag and wrap in a small towel. Apply on the affected area to soothe the discomfort and help relax the muscles.
  • Epsom salt bath. Dissolve a cup or two of Epsom salt in your warm bathwater. Soak in it for several minutes to attain relief from charley horse.
  • Stay hydrated. Since dehydration is one of the causes of charley horse, it pays to drink lots of fluids. This is especially true while you are exercising.
  • A healthy diet. Experts say that your diet should consist of foods that are rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium most especially if you are prone to having charley horse.
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