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Know More about Charley Horse

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Clinical Directorate

Muscle Cramp

Know More about Charley Horse

Dr. Palash Gupta
Associate Director & Coordinator

We all experience muscle cramps that may come without warning, suddenly causing a paralyzing stiffness in the foot or calf. Also known as Charley Horse, particularly when they occur in calf muscles and cause an involuntarily stiffness. The muscles do not relax for several seconds and the pain can be excruciating. Some cramps causes severe contractions, causing the muscles to move in opposite directions. These spasms are more frequent in the front and back of thigh, hands, abdomen as well as muscles along the rib cage.

They occur more frequently as we age, and can extremely painful but rarely harmful. Whether running or sleeping, day or night these spasms are most uncomfortable. They arise because the nerves that carry signals to your muscles send continuous messages. You will see that the cramped muscle is usually harder than normal and sometimes even twitching. After the cramp subsides, the knotted muscle feels soft and tender but the pain persists for some time. If the cramps are occasional occurrences, you can manage them on your own, but if they happen more frequently, it is advisable to consult a doctor and seek medical attention.

What causes it?

  • Dehydration: ensure that you are drinking enough water throughout the day
  • Inadequate blood circulation in legs
  • Not stretching before exercising
  • Poor Nutrition i.e. not consuming enough green leafy vegetables and potassium rich fruits like bananas, oranges and avocados.
  • Wearing wrong shoes especially if you changed from flats to heels.
  • Overexerting your calf muscles while running or exercising
  • Excessive fatigue during warm weather
  • Keep Cramps from Happening Again

There are a few simple ways to stop leg spasms and cramping to occur more frequently:

1.If the cramp occurs while you are asleep, get out of the bed and start walking, try to stretch your calf muscle and the back of your leg by leaning forward or pushing against the wall or stand up straight on your toes as long as you can manage.
2.Use ice or ice pack on area where the muscle is cramped to suppress the pain as well as to calm down the muscle. For best results, wrap the ice in a towel or bandage and apply it for 15 to 20 minutes.  
3.Increase magnesium and potassium intake in your diet. The cramps may occur due to a vitamin deficiency making it difficult for heart to push enough blood in the legs. While potassium regulates water in body and magnesium regulates blood sugar levels, blood pressure and muscles and nerves functionality. 
4.Elevate the affected area by using pillows or armchair of a couch or chair. This will improve the circulation of blood from the spasm area effectively.
5. Avoid drinks such as caffeine that allows you to urinate more often as it reduces electrolytes in the body.