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Ow! A Charley Horse!

Has this ever happened to you? You’re running or swimming, or even sleeping soundly in bed, when a sharp pain seizes your leg and doesn’t let go. You’re left crumpled in a heap of hurt until it passes.

A leg cramp, known colloquially as a “charley horse,” occurs when a muscle in your leg contracts and doesn’t immediately relax. These muscle spasms can be incredibly painful and difficult to soothe. If you’re prone to charley horses, learn what causes them, how can you prevent them from happening, and what can you do about them once they start.

Leg cramps most often occur when muscles are injured or strained. They are more likely to occur if you allow yourself to become dehydrated, or are deficient in minerals such as calcium and potassium. Irritated nerves can also be responsible for chronic muscle spasms.

If you get a charley horse, either while exercising or at night, do not try to stretch the muscle at first. Depending on how tight the muscle is, you may tear the tissues and injure yourself. Instead, massage the area lightly with your fingers. Taking a hot bath or applying a hot compress can also help. Once the pain has passed, you may try to gently stretch the muscle. If some pain persists after the spasm has passed, you can take an anti-inflammatory pain medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, and apply ice to the area. A mentholated muscle rub may also help.

Here are some strategies for preventing future charley horses:

– Stretch regularly, especially before and after working out, and before bed.

– Wear good, comfortable, supportive shoes.

– Don’t overextend yourself. Whether working out or doing household chores, listen to your body and don’t push yourself beyond your capabilities.

– Drink plenty of water on a regular basis. During workouts, or on very hot days, switch to a sports drink to replace electrolytes lost through your sweat.

– Drink alcohol and coffee in moderation, as they can contribute to dehydration.

– Eat foods that are rich in potassium and magnesium, such as whole grains, bananas, dates, raisins, apricots, cabbage, broccoli, citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and fish.

– Eat the recommended daily allowance of dairy products, such as milk and cheese, and talk to your doctor about whether you would benefit from a calcium supplement.

– Make sure your bed sheets are loose. Tight-fitting sheets can forces the legs and feet into awkward positions.

For most people, charley horses are a mild and occasional annoyance. If you experience leg cramps on a regular basis, visit to your doctor. Frequent muscle spasms can indicate a more serious underlying condition requiring medical treatment and/or physical therapy.

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  • tim says:

    I get cramps in my legs and my side right under my rib cage. A good friend told me to put a pebble from the ground under my tongue. Rinse the pebble in cold water and Almost instantly my cramps go away. I didn’t believe it at first. But when I tried it I was shocked that it actually worked.

  • amber says:

    Is it normal for when u have the charlie horse occur for it to look and feel like the muscle is literally jumping around under the skin? It really scared me and almost put me in shock, I woke up screaming, I’m laying in bed now trying.to sleep but slightly afraid to as my leg is uncomfortable but it’s lifted with a hot water bottle underneath it as well

  • Janet M says:

    I am 73 and have had leg cramps off and on for years. I have found that when I eat chocolate or a lot of sweets it seems to trigger the cramps. I too have tried soap between the sheets and it works. I have also tried a product called “Leg cramps” and it does stop them. Drink plenty of water and watch the sweets.

    • Liz Croft says:

      I take magnesium MALATE. It has to be the particular magnesium because the stomach can absorb it better. I take 1,250 mg. every night.i buy it from Swanson Vitamins. It’s Source Naturals.

  • Lisa says:

    Chew two tums a day and your cramps will go away!

  • Ruth says:

    I used to get foot and leg cramping quite often. A friend told me to try Vit. E. I did and haven’t had another episode for years now.

  • Dan says:

    I find it much better to avoid them by properly hydrating and eating before they happen. I ride bicycles for 100 miles+ on a regular basis and very rarely end up with cramps. Usually when I don’t properly rehydrate after the workout

  • Kelly Linzey says:

    1/4 teaspoon of Morton’s Light Salt in 8 Oz of Luke warm water will help. Has to be the light salt though not regular old salt.

  • EVY says:

    I found standing on /in something very cold works for me ,,,, I have stood in a bath tub with cold water running. I have been doing this for years, My Dad did this & it does work ,, Don’t laugh until you try it ,

  • Babette says:

    My mom always says to drink tonic water to help with leg cramps.

  • Leslie says:

    I get them really bad in the last 3 toes and the ball and arch of my left foot. Only the left. Sometimes in the calf on the same side. It usually happens when I’ve been over doing it. I drink a lot of water and take supplements. Any clue why ?

  • Paula says:

    The recommendations above are a little slow. Cramps or charlie horses hurt really bad. When I get them, I start turning my toes up. Relaxes the muscles in the foot and leg. Cramp will leave and you can relax.

  • Coco says:

    Pinch & hold the meaty part between your thumb and finger. Either side works. Cramping will stop immediately. If it returns when you release the pinch… just hold down again.
    Sounds crazy but it works every time!

  • patricia ann white radakovich says:

    I am 67 and I have terrible spasms and cramps in my legs, ankles, thighs etc. I know part if the problem is due to my chemo and part because of the red wine I drink. The only thing that has ever helped me is hot water and an old “wives tale” from my grandmother.
    A bar of ivory soap under the fitted sheet around the lower leg area. Be a skeptic, but it works for me now and in the past. The soap has to be ivory. Havent a clue whats in it all I know is it works and I always take a bar when I travel because it gets worse then. I do keep myself hydrated at all times.

  • JOYCE says:

    I have tried most of the above. the only thing that works for me is half cup tonic water at bedtime. had bad thigh and foot spasms. taken regular cures them 95 percent of the time. I can skip a day or two but more than that they come back. I get diet tonic water in 2 lit bottles at Kroger for 89 cents,

  • Joanie Riead says:

    i have had Charlie horses in my my calves since I started working (standing on cement) at the age of 15. I am now 50 and a few years ago I messed up my lower back and now have a bulging disk. It pushes against the stiatic nerve and at times while sleeping if I roll over it will catch and all of sudden I have the worst Charlie horse ever. I constantly have to be aware how I move or roll over or even stretching wihile lying down will trigger it. I try to drink plenty of water and I now take potassium everyday which helps. I think if I could have surgery on the disk it would hep tremendously.

  • Rosemary says:

    I have a lot of leg cramps. My Dr. told me to buy a product, which is on the shelf at Walmart stores, Celcet, works in 1 minute, the pain and cramp is gone.

  • Barbara says:

    So relieved to find this forum. I just had cramps last night. Still feel the effects of them this morning. I stand for 8 hours a day at work and on stone floors. I’ve gone through many pairs of shoes. I bought OTC orthotics, Dr. Scholl’s. My legs feel exhausted, very heavy, weighted. I have had the spasms mentioned here and horrible paralysis as well which I managed to relieve through massage, deep with some tapotement, tapping hard with both hands, percussion. That worked coupled with massage. I took potassium and it created digestive problems so stopped. I will try that again. I now have a Baker’s cyst so will have that taken care of. Awful really.

    • Susan Higgins says:

      Barbara, see if you can ask your employer for a cushioned mat to stand on, they make some for industrial kitchens. Cement floors are just terrible. Cherries and cherry juice also works to get potassium. Keep us posted and good luck!

  • Shelly says:

    A few times I have had muscle spasms that starts from inside both knees acc run up into my thighs. This is very debilitating, and the best position I found to get into is getting on the couch on my knees facing the back and trying to take as much pressure off as possible. They are so painful, it is hard to breathe from the pain.

  • Jennifer Branton says:

    I have charlie horses occasionally. My calf muscles will cramp up so bad that I have to pop right up out of bed, or I can’t get up. I hobble to the bathroom and stand in a hot shower, letting water run down my legs or hot water beat right onto them… That is the only way I can get rid of mine. I have learned I have to stay in there extra time too, because more than once, when I thought they were gone and I picked up my foot to get out of the tub, it would catch again….. 🙁

    • Susan Higgins says:

      Jennifer Branton, try a therapeutic bath in Epsom salts and stretch while in the tub. Be sure if you’re standing for long periods that you stretch those muscles and get good, supportive shoes. Good luck!

  • robin says:

    I get whole body cramps from my jaw to my toes, my fingers curl up I have to literally pull them apart. Calf, thigh, under arms, neck, knees, I can watch my fingers just cramp up, and pain. It makes me cry.

  • Cathy says:

    Try putting a bar of soap,yes a BAR of soap under your sheets,at the foot of your bed.Just try it!

  • danielle says:

    I started getting regular muscle cramps in 2010. At first it was just in my calf but after several weeks it traveled everywhere and I not only had cramps but random muscle spasms that were debilitating for me and scary for anyone witnessing them. They would contort my body and I could not stop them, sometimes lasting over a minute and sometimes so horrific I would scream from the pain. I was tested – blood and CT and MRI scans, all came back clean. The doctors suggested (and I thought) MS but with no lesions I was deemed ok. Now it’s a waiting game. I was put on anti-seizure meds for a little over a year but – this is the best part – side effects included possible muscle spasms and cramps plus I blacked out several times while I was flying high I apparently became verbally abusive to anyone nearby – huge mood changes that were NOT me. I took myself off eventually and thankfully just a few days/weeks before I found out I was pregnant. But I did have a discussion and experimented long before this with my doctor when they decided to increase my dosage that I might be magnesium deficient. I discovered when I took magnesium supplements it was directly proportional to needing less anti-seizure meds. So when I get spasms or cramps now I have 2 medications: 1,000 mg magnesium and I also discovered recently Hylands leg cramp homeopathic remedy. I still need to continue to be checked but hopefully this is the true cause and I pray not MS. I live in an area where MS is surprisingly common so I worry about the water supply and with a disabled/health-problem husband, I need to be well for our children’s sake. Keep fighting the good fight, ask questions and when you aren’t satisfied with the answer – keep fighting and asking questions!

  • Sam says:

    try a teaspoon of ketchup my great grand pal swears by it I usually just eat bananas I’m 18 both ways are fast and effective

  • Gracie says:

    I’ve been a diabetic for years. When my blood sugar levels go up (I know, my fault) I become dehydrated. It’s a given I’m going to wake up with foot and leg cramps that keep me awake the whole night. I’ve had only limited success with nasty tasting tonic water and other home remedies. I found an Amish product that takes those cramps away in a MINUTE. I keep it next to my bed. The product is called “Stops Leg & Foot Cramps in about one Minute”. While this stuff is truly a miracle, it is cringe worthy to taste. I sincerely hope this website owner permits my comments. I don’t profit from my comments. I think this product can benefit anyone who needs it.

  • Gerry says:

    I am 72 now and have had cramps for years and years but they last sometimes now or 15 minutes sometimes if I stand up from sitting from different positions it will clear them but at times they are so bad I just have to walk and walk to get them un cramped. Dr. told me its because as you age muscles deteriorate and the healthy ones over work to make up for the bad ones and you get cramps. I have heard from a bunch of people like they are saying here tonic water help you from getting them.

  • rose archer says:

    drink a med sized glass of Tonic water like you might use for gin & tonic. in very few min. pain is gone if you have many leg spasms, drink a glass of tonic water with evening meal…

  • Marsha says:

    Been suffering with leg cramps for years….mostly in the right side and calf of my right leg. Also…the top of my right thigh, across the back of my thigh to the upper inside of my thigh. I have them also in my feet and toes. Mine are so intense that I can’t move,
    and will finally stumble to the bathroom and I will get out my hair dryer and heat up the muscle to release the cramp. I have been told that dill pickle juice works…I have done that and seems it does somewhat.

    • Liz Croft says:

      I take magnesium MALATE. It has to be the particular magnesium because the stomach can absorb it better. I take 1,250 mg. every night.i buy it from Swanson Vitamins on the internet. It’s Source Naturals.I rarely get charley horses anymore as opposed to living with them for years until I found this product. My brother who suffered with cramps found this when he was fighting cancer and told me about it.

  • Betty Wills says:

    I have these cramps inside leg at knee. So painfully I can not move an inch.I have to bend over all I can and push in on it hard takes a while for it to go away and when it does .I break out in a sweat ! It leaves after a while like it never happened.My leg is sore for a few days. has anyone had these . AI have told Dr. They say cramp. feels like dying !!

  • JodeneMccraw says:

    my son had severe leg cramps while growing up. Nightly screams and crying as a baby. An elderly woman told me to tie string loosely around the ankles. I was to the point I would try anything. It worked! I mentioned it to my mother in law a few years ago when she complained of leg cramps at night. She had me put strings around her ankles and she has no more cramps. I suggest ankle bracelets for a more unique look. Worth a try. Nothing to lose except a little string, yarn etc.

  • David says:

    Tonic water works for me-its the quinine in the tonic water. Stretching exercises several times a day also especially at bedtime & again in the morning also help greatly.

  • JANE C says:

    I’ve been getting leg cramps for years. They come for a few days and disapear for awhile. I have found Hyland lag cramp tablets help to relieve them pretty quickly. This is a homeopathic remedy. Works for me and a couple of friends that I suggested to use. Just wish I could find the reason for the cramps.

  • Cindy says:

    Magnesium Malate daily plus drink my weight in ounces of water. Eat a balanced diet and exercise daily. Always check with your doctor it could also be side effects from other meds.

    • Liz Croft says:

      I take magnesium MALATE. It has to be the particular magnesium because the stomach can absorb it better. I take 1,250 mg. every night.i buy it from Swanson Vitamins on the internet. It’s Source Naturals.I rarely get charley horses anymore as opposed to living with them for years until I found this product. My brother who suffered with cramps found this when he was fighting cancer and told me about it. I agree with you

  • amanda says:

    Teaspoon of mustard

  • Karla says:

    i drink pickle juice and it goes away.

  • Marilyn says:

    If you get up and stand if will go away. It never fails for me or my husband.

  • Joyce says:

    I developed charley horses during my pregnancies years ago. My Ob-Gyn told me to sling my leg(s) over the sides of bed and plant my feet firmly on the floor. The cramps stop immediately. I still do this 45,years later.

  • Susan Wood says:

    Leg cramps are common in pregnancy, and when someone gets dehydrated, low in minerals, or has an imbalance in muscle use leading to strain. Calf cramps respond well to bending the toes straight up, heat, gentle massage, and ibuprofen. Im concerned about two things. One is that suffering people might actually believe the ridiculous placebo solutions such as soap or camphor under the sheets. THINK. How would that work??? and the second thing is that sometimes what we think is a leg cramp could be a blood clot deep in the leg. These are serious. If the pain gets worse, does not go away, or continues for days, see a doctor!!!

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