If you’ve ever experienced a charley horse, you know that they are very painful. This is especially the case if they come in the middle of the night, disturbing your sleep. Essentially, a charley horse comes when the muscles, typically the calf muscles, cramp up tightly. If you frequently have charley horses, don’t worry; there are a number of things you can do to prevent them, or at least reduce their severity.
While all the reasons that charley horses occur are not fully understood, there are a few specific clues that may contribute to them. For example, certain medicines, particularly diuretics, can cause them. Furthermore, strenuous physical activity, especially when the body is low on calcium, potassium, or magnesium, can increase the odds of a charley horse. There are still other contributing factors.
Generally, overuse of the muscles is among the most significant contributors to charley horses. Typically, they will arise after long periods of specific muscle use; if you spend a long period of time standing, for example, you could be setting yourself up for serious leg pain. Dehydration is also something you need to consider. If you’re not drinking sufficient water or otherwise keeping hydrated throughout the day, especially during periods of exertion, you’re putting yourself at risk.
Furthermore, while exercise is certainly crucial to the health of both body and mind, and overdoing it is conversely harmful, frequency is not the only exercise factor you need to consider. If you exercise in extreme heat or cold, you could end up provoking a charley horse, because both of these conditions create stress on the body in different ways. Hot weather encourages dehydration, which can dry out your body and muscles. Cold weather could limit the flexibility of your muscles, because they are colder than usual, and therefore not as limber as you might expect. And speaking of stress, stress is a contributing factor for a variety of ailments, and charley horses are no exception. Stress increases the production of certain hormones most notably cortisol, that in small increases for short periods of time can be beneficial. However, if the body is constantly exposed to continuous, elevated levels of hormones like cortisol, it can begin to suffer significant damage. In the case of charley horses, continuous stress, particularly in the neck muscles, where all nerves pass, can set the stage.
Pregnancy is also known to be a risk factor for charley horses. This is most true among women who are in their second or third trimesters. It’s not known precisely why this correlation exists, however. According to medical professionals, this increased risk for charley horses most likely is a result of the combination of weight gain, pressure on the nerves, additional stress, and changes in blood flow, all of which come with pregnancy.
If you’d like to reduce the risk of charley horses at bed time, get plenty of water during the day, and make sure you stretch out your muscles before you lie down to sleep. Calf stretches are a good place to start, but other exercise can help as well, along with supportive footwear. Additionally, a healthy diet can help; leafy greens can provide the body with a lot of minerals, so regular consumption can help keep your calcium, potassium, and magnesium at optimum levels. Even if a charley horse does strike, there are things you can do. Walking and stretching may be quite painful in the moment, but they can help you recover from the charley horse much faster.
If you experience frequent, extreme, or recurrent charley horses, consider the possibility of more serious medical issues. Leg cramps are symptoms of critical illnesses, such as diabetes, or thyroid disease. There are, of course, other symptoms to look out for. Keep a clear head and check in with your doctor if you have any concerns. Otherwise, practice self-care through regular exercise, with plenty of stretching before and after, eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.