Charley Horses: Frequently Asked Questions

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Almost everyone has experienced a muscle cramp and knows the discomfort that this sudden tightening can cause. In fact, research suggests that one in three people get cramps in their legs.

While leg cramps often happen during rest or sleep, a charley horse is a sudden and painful muscle cramp that occurs with exercise.

Fortunately, charley horses are usually brief, lasting less than 10 minutes, and are typically harmless. However, it’s always a good idea to speak with a vein specialist who can assess your cramps and determine they’re the result of an underlying medical condition.

Additionally, patients can do their best to limit their risk factors and manage muscle cramps with self-care. Keep reading to learn all about the causes and treatments for charley horses.

What Is a Charley Horse?

A charley horse occurs when calf muscles tighten up without warning and produce cramping and pain.

What Are the Causes of a Charley Horse?

In the absence of an underlying medical condition, the exact cause of a charley horse is unknown.

Nevertheless, researchers can tell us what happens in the body when we encounter a charley horse during exercise. They believe that rapid-firing nerves, rather than tissue, cause the muscle to squeeze and cramp.

Charley horses can also be a side effect of some medications (i.e. drugs used to remove fluid build-up and to treat high blood pressure, asthma, and high cholesterol), and individuals should contact their prescribing physician in the event of muscle cramping.

Lastly, stimulants, such as caffeine, nicotine, and amphetamines, have been linked to charley horses.

How to Treat a Charley Horse?

Charley horses may be managed with the help of a physician who can identify and remove the cause of muscle cramps, diagnose and treat underlying medical conditions, and educate patients on preventative measures.

Some tips for prevention include: Allow time between eating and exercising, take care to stretch muscles prior to a workout, and refuel after exercise with fluids and a light snack.

Finally, muscle cramping may also be reduced by lifestyle modifications such as weight loss, increased physical activity, trying different footwear, heat therapy, and sleep hygiene.

For additional information about the causes and treatments for charley horses, please call the Vein Center of Maryland to schedule an appointment.

We are conveniently located in Westminster, Eldersburg, Baltimore, Hunt Valley and Bel Air, Maryland.