fitness

Medically Reviewed

Charley Horses: Relief for the Discomfort in the Muscles

a soccer player getting their calf stretched

A charley horse is no joke when it happens. Thankfully, the discomfort usually subsides on its own. But if they don't or they continue it’s time to take action.

When in the throes of charley horse discomfort in the middle of the night, most people would swear to do anything to stop them forever. The next day, when it’s gone, they might not be so committed. The truth is, there are some things that can be done to keep them at bay. And if they’re recurring in regular intervals, they may be a sign of an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

What is a muscle cramp?

A muscle cramp is a sudden and involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles. While are generally harmless, muscle cramps can make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle.

What is a charley horse?

Charley horse is the common name for a muscle cramp or spasm that usually happens in the leg.

Symptoms of a muscle cramp

Muscle spasms can occur in any muscle in the body, but often happen in the calf, thigh, and arch of the foot. When a muscle is in spasm, it contracts without your control and does not relax. While cramps can either be a mild twitch or excruciatingly uncomfortable, they typically cause an abrupt, intense discomfort in the impacted muscle. The discomfort can be so intense that it often wakes a person at night.

What causes muscle cramps?

The exact cause of muscle cramps is not really known, though there are a number of factors that could be potentially causal. Exercising in the heat, failure to stretch sufficiently before exercising, muscle fatigue, and electrolyte imbalances often lead to cramps. They can occur whether you’re relaxing, sleeping, exercising, or just participating in your daily routine. That’s what gives them that element of surprise.

Individuals at risk for charley horses

Though anyone can get a charley horse, and seemingly at any time, they tend to be most prevalent in older adults, people who are overweight, pregnant people, athletes, and those with diabetes, thyroid, liver, or nerve disorders. Cramps in athletes can occur anytime during exertion or after.

Vitamins and supplements to combat charley horses

Potassium

Potassium is an electrolyte that helps regulate fluid balance, nerve transmission, and acid-base balance. This study calls potassium deficiency a common electrolyte disturbance, though if not addressed it can become quite serious. Excessive potassium increases or decreases might contribute to cramping.

Chloride

Chloride plays an important role in acid and electrolyte balance, kidney and muscle function, and the transport of water, minerals, and gasses throughout the body. While a chloride deficiency might present as muscle cramps, there are more serious side effects if left untreated.

Electrolytes

Electrolytes are essential minerals like sodium, calcium, and potassium that are vital to many key functions in the body. Imbalances are not uncommon and can cause muscle cramps. They can be easily corrected and should be addressed immediately. You can conveniently get your essential minerals back in balance and hydrate with our convenient individually packaged Electrolyte sticks.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a critical mineral that is abundant in the body. It is a cofactor in more than 300 chemical reactions in the body and is essential to electrolyte balance. It may be helpful to relieve muscle cramps in some individuals. This study highlights the role magnesium plays in overall health and how the depletion of magnesium plays a role in many common conditions. Magnesium can be depleted from caffeine, alcohol, stress, exercising, and sweating heavily. Luckily, Care/of has a Magnesium supplement sourced from Irish seawater which contains 72 trace minerals making it highly absorbable to support your muscle health.

Zinc

Zinc is a trace mineral that the body needs in small amounts. Zinc deficiency might contribute to muscle cramping or spasms. It can be found in nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, and whole fortified grains and is also available as a supplement in capsule, tablet, gummy, or lozenge form.

B Vitamins

B1 and B12 deficiencies have been linked to muscle cramping. B vitamins are water-soluble, so any that you do not use is expelled through urine. You can get all of your B needs met in an excellent supplement like Care/of’s B-Complex: The Busy B’s.

Calcium

Calcium is the most common and among the most important minerals in the body. It plays a key role in muscle contraction, so deficiency could be a contributing factor to cramping. This review notes the possible link of low calcium to vitamin D deficiency and explains the potential serious consequences of calcium deficiency. Care/of formulated the synergistic blend of algae derived calcium with vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K2 in one convenient capsule called Calcium Plus that can support your calcium needs.

DHA Omega-3 Fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids may prevent muscle soreness from exercise, but they are not considered a potential treatment for muscle cramps.

Other tips to prevent charley horses

Proper warm up

Properly warming up and stretching before vigorous exercise helps to get the blood flowing and prevent muscle cramps. Many prefer dynamic stretching, but it is important that you find what works best for you.

Stretch

The last thing you probably want to do after a vigorous workout is take the time to stretch, but it is key to proper cool down, breaking down lactic acid, and beginning muscle recovery and repair.

Keep Hydrated

The American College of Sports Medicine’s position on hydration suggests that it is essential to hydrate during and after exercise with electrolytes and water. It is important to maintain electrolyte balance in order to avoid cramping. Fluid lost through sweat during exercise should be replaced with electrolytes, not just water.

Final takeaways

If you’ve ever had a charley horse, the mere mention of it may make you wince. The truth is they are fairly common and usually go away on their own or with massage, PT, or just a warm bath in Epsom Salts or magnesium flakes. If the discomfort lasts for an extended period of time (more than a few days), or if they are recurring on a regular basis, speak to your doctor about possible treatment.

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