6 Ways to Prevent Charley Horses

It’s unclear where the term “charley horse” originated. Some sources point to a horse named Charley, who walked with a limp. Others say it came from a baseball player named Charley “Old Hoss” Radbourne.

Regardless of the phrase’s origin, a charley horse refers to a cramp in the calf or foot. A charley horse occurs when the muscles begin to contract on their own. While charley horses can seem to come out of nowhere, there are steps you can take to prevent them.

Stretch before Exercise

Some people get charley horses when they don’t stretch before exercising. Stretching increases blood flow to the muscles and can improve your range of motion.

Before you exercise, stretch your calves, thighs, and other muscles for about 30 seconds per muscle. Focus on stretching the muscles you’ll use the most in your specific activity. Use gentle movements-don’t bounce or jerk your body.

Vary Your Exercise Routine

Putting stress on the same muscles day after day could increase muscle fatigue. Thus, it might be a good idea to exercise different muscle groups throughout the week. For example, you might do bicep strengthening exercises one day and calf strengthening exercises the next. Resting your muscles after an intense workout, helps to minimize injury from over use and gives the muscles a chance to regenerate.

Avoid Exercising in Extreme Temperatures

Exercising in extreme heat or extreme cold may also increase your risk of charley horses. On bad-weather days, you might choose to exercise indoors instead. If you’re a runner, you could run on an indoor track. If you’re a biker, you could try an indoor cycling class.

Get Enough Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium

Your muscles need these minerals to function, and a mineral deficiency could cause muscle cramps. You can get more potassium by eating beans, fish, and avocados. You can get more calcium by eating cheese, broccoli, and yogurt, and by drinking milk. You can get more magnesium by eating nuts, seeds, and fish. And you can get all three minerals by eating leafy greens.

Note that taking diuretics for high blood pressure can deplete potassium levels. Ask your doctor to test you for low potassium, calcium, and magnesium levels. If your levels are low, you might benefit from taking these minerals in a supplement form.

Drink Water

Dehydration, can also put you at greater risk of getting muscle cramps. That’s why you should make sure to drink enough water throughout the day.

For every pound of your weight, you should drink as little as half an ounce of water or as much as an ounce of water. For example, someone who weighs 150 pounds needs between 75 and 150 ounces a day. Your climate and exercise level will also affect where you fall in that range. People who exercise more and live in hotter climates will inherently need more water.

Water containing electrolytes might also help your muscles recover. Electrolytes help to stimulate muscles and regulate body fluids.

Stand Up and Stretch

Many people also find that charley horses wake them up at night when they are sleeping. In this case, it may help to stand up and stretch the affected muscle(s) out. How you stretch will depend on which muscles are actually cramping. For instance, if you are experiencing a painful charley horse in the calf, lunge forward with the leg that doesn’t have a charley horse, and extend the leg with the charley horse. This should help to stretch out the affected calf muscle(s) and decrease the intensity of the charley horse. 

How to Treat a Charley Horse

What if you try all these prevention tips, but you still get painful charley horses? These muscle cramps could point to a more serious problem. We already mentioned nutritional deficiencies that could cause charley horses. Other problems could also include nerve compression, or even a side effect to a medicine you’re taking. Assuming that all of these potential causes are not in play, and your electrolytes and hydration levels are normal, there is a distinct possibility that your charley horses are actually due to a circulation defect like Chronic Venous Insufficiency or varicose vein disease.

The physicians at the Sheen Vein Institute in St. Louis can help determine the cause of your cramps and offer you a charley horse treatment plan, so call us today.

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