Ever have a nasty, sharp muscle spasm in your leg that has made you hop around while wincing? Well, then the chances are that you have a charley horse. A common, but painful condition that we will look at in-depth below. Read on to discover more about the charley horse phenomena, as well as the causes, preventions, and treatments.
1. What is a charley horse?
An intense muscle contraction in the thigh or calf, a charley horse is usually caused by the muscle being overworked during or right after exercise. Indeed, charley horses can happen when we are resting or while we are active, and have been linked to low levels of magnesium and potassium. Although there are a variety of reasons that the condition can arise that you can read about below.
2. What causes charley horses?
Currently, scientists are still discussing and researching what causes charley horses. Indeed, things are complicated by the fact that they can affect a whole range of people from older folks, to athletes in their prime, to pregnant women.
However, what the experts do know is that there are certain factors that mean you could be more at risk of suffering from a charley horse than someone else. Keep reading to discover the risk factors for charley horses below.
3. Who is at risk of getting a charley horse?
Athletes, and those that do not properly hydrate when working out
While there are a number of reasons that someone may experience a charley horse, dehydration is one of the most common. This is because when your body sweats it loses essential electrolytes, so cannot function in the proper way. It is this imbalance in electrolytes that is most often responsible for the sharp cramps associated with charley horse.
Evidence to support this includes that those most prone to charley horses are also most prone to electrolyte imbalance and include pregnant women, those working out hard and sweating, as well as those on particular medications.
People taking certain medications and with certain disorders
Indeed, you may also experience charley horse if you find yourself on particular medications, usually statins and diuretics. Often because these also upset the electrolyte balance in the body.
In particular, some medications for Alzheimer's disease, angina, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, myasthenia gravis, Parkinson's disease, and cholesterol have been linked to an increased incidence of charley horse. If you are finding that they are having this effect on you do not stop taking them, instead, speak to your doctor as soon as possible and follow their advice.
People that who wear high heels
While killer heels can look great, they can be problematic because another common cause of charley horses is nerve compression. This is because when there is pressure on the nerve it can trigger it to be active and this is what causes the cramp.
This type of nerve compression can occur for a number of reasons including repetitive strain, or bad posture as well as specific incidents. Oh, and wearing high heels!
Sadly, an increase in the incidence of charley horses can also be linked to age. In particular, those of us that are older may get more charley horse-type muscle spasms, for two reasons. The first is that as you already know from the section above dehydration and electrolyte imbalance can cause charley horses. Unfortunately, as we age our bodies become less adept at retaining water so dehydration and the associated imbalance of electrolytes is more likely. Similarly, as we age we also lose muscle mass, which can also add to the risk of cramping.
Many women find that it's normal to experience aches and pains during pregnancy. One of which is charley horses. Indeed charley horse often occurs in pregnancy because the growth of the baby can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. This pressure causes inflammation in the nerve and this is what will trigger a charley horse. Additionally, pregnancy can disrupt your electrolyte levels, especially the amount of magnesium in the body which may also make pregnant women at greater risk of charley horse.
How to Get Rid of a Charley Horse?
When you get one, a charley horse can really hurt. That is why most people want to know how to relive them as they come on. Happily, there are some things you can do to reduce the likelihood of getting a charley horse and lessen the discomfort when you are experiencing one.
Balance your electrolytes
As you already know by now a change in the balance of electrolytes in your system can cause you to be more at risk of experiencing a charley horse. Such electrolytes include sodium, chloride, magnesium, and potassium. All of which play a vital role in making sure your muscles function properly.
Sodium for example is essential to the proper function of your muscles. The good news is that most people get plenty of sodium through their diet. Although, it may be worth supplementing this if you sweat a great deal while doing physical activity, or you are on a low sodium diet.
Chloride on the other hand helps to maintain the correct levels of fluid in your body, and this makes it particularly important when it comes to beating dehydration, which also contributes to muscle cramps.
Potassium, which is crucial to good muscle function because it helps your body to use glycogen. This is important because glycogen is a type of sugar that is the main source of energy for your muscles, without which they cannot function at the optimum level.
Magnesium. This electrolyte is a mineral that is needed by your muscles to ensure that they can both relax and contract in the proper way. Therefore an imbalance in this can contribute to an increased risk of charley horse. With that in mind, adding additional electrolytes to your system can help reduce your risk, or help prevent Charley horses all together.
The good news is that you don't have to rely on sugary sports drinks to rebalance your electrolyte levels. Indeed, they tend to only contain potassium and sodium anyway, so you will still be missing out on chloride, and the magnesium you need.
With that in mind, using a supplement like NO! Muscle Cramps can be particularly helpful. This is because it contains all four essential electrolytes including magnesium and chloride, all in the correct doses. It's also suitable for those on a celiac diet, those that do not consume animal products, and those that prefer clean eating. This is because NO! Muscle Cramps is gluten-free, vegan, and contains no GMO's!
Additionally No! Muscle Cramps is third-party tested and GMP certified which means that you can be sure it's pure and is made in a safe environment. Some users have even reported that it can help to stop muscle cramps in progress as well as prevent them from occurring.
One of the biggest causes of charley horses is an electrolyte imbalance, which is caused by sweating and dehydration. Therefore it makes sense that staying hydrated can help alleviate this issue.
With that in mind, drinking plenty of water with electrolytes can help keep this balance as well as maintain the right level of liquid in your blood, something that will make sure your muscles get all the oxygen they need to function correctly and so avoid spasms.
Stretch and massage
Stretch and massage are usually the best approaches when you have a charley horse that you are looking to relive. Try things like:
• Gentle massage of the cramping muscle.
• Use a heating pad to warm and soothe the area.
• Gently stretch the muscle in question
• Use a foam roller to take a hot bath to relieve the pain
It may also help to:
• Consume food that is high in potassium like bananas.
• Use over-the-counter medication like Ibuprofen to relieve the pain.
Use magnesium citrate
Lastly, another option that can help to reduce your risk of charley horse is to take magnesium citrate of around 300 mg. Indeed, studies have proved that this is effective for those struggling with charley horses.
This is probably because many people are deficient in magnesium, and as it plays a prime role in muscle function adding to their diet in the form of a supplement can help them minimize the incidence of charley horse.
In conclusion, charley horses can be painful and disruptive. However, there are a few things that can help relieve them, and even prevent them from happening such as staying hydrated and making sure your body has the correct balance of electrolytes.
Although, remember, if your charley horses are frequent or severe, it is important to see a doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.