How To Treat And Prevent Charley Horses

If you've ever had a sudden, strong pain in your leg in the middle of the night, it's possible you experienced a muscle spasm or cramp also known as a "charley horse." According to Medical News Today, a charley horse is a muscle cramp that is painful and occurs out of nowhere. Often, charley horses happen during the night or when exercising, and they typically occur in the legs' calf region. While the muscle spasm is usually nothing of concern, charley horses can cause severe pain, and in turn, interrupt a good night's sleep.

In addition to severe pain, you may be able to see or feel a charley horse. When the muscle cramp occurs, a hard lump made of muscle tissue can sometimes be felt or seen underneath the skin, Mayo Clinic reports. Overusing or straining a muscle, dehydration, and sitting in the same position for a long time are common causes of a charley horse. However, the cramp can also be related to underlying medical conditions, such as insufficient blood supply, nerve compression, or mineral depletion. In some cases, a cause is never determined.

What to do if you experience a charley horse

Whether you've had a charley horse or not, there are steps you can take daily to help prevent them from happening to you. According to Insider, stretching regularly, especially before and after exercising and before bedtime, helps prevent charley horses. You can also try switching up your sleeping position. For example, if you sleep on your back, prop your feet up on a pillow and point your toes upward. If you prefer to sleep on your stomach, try sleeping with your feet resting over the edge of the bed.

MedlinePlus also suggests keeping hydrated throughout the day. You may opt for sports drinks to replenish electrolytes if you are doing intense exercise or working out in the heat. Coconut water is a less sugary alternative, notes Insider.

It's no secret charley horses are painful, so you'll want proper treatment should it happen to you. Insider recommends gently stretching the leg that's in pain. New England Baptist Hospital suggests walking around for a couple of minutes or until you feel the pain subsiding. Additionally, applying a cold compress to the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes can help. Most charley horses don't need to be seen by a doctor, but if you're having muscle spasms regularly, call your healthcare provider.