I don’t know why I’m writing about charley horses – since it seems as though all of my health-related articles are written these days because of some recent injury I’ve suffered. Knock on wood; I haven’t suffered a charley horse in at least three or four years – although I did suffer one gruesome hamstring tear in both, 2004 and 2005.
At any rate, I have decided to share my knowledge and, unfortunately, vast experiences about charley horses with the entire world in an effort to help people all over the globe to relieve, reduce and hopefully – eliminate – the nagging ailment.
A charley horse is an uncontrolled contraction of the muscle and produces a sharp pain that can many times, be very intense. Muscle cramps most often occur in the calf or foot, but they can also develop in other areas of the body, such as the hamstrings or back. Muscle cramps usually happen while playing sports or exercising – or, lying in bed. Overuse of muscles, injuries, muscle strains, or even staying in the same position for a long period of time can produce cramping of this nature.
Nighttime calf or hamstring cramps usually strike a person when in bed – and these cramps can many times be the most painful. It is possible that the day’s activities such as a tough workout, wearing high heels, or taking medication like diuretics may spark the cramping. Another thing that can cause instantaneous cramping is pointing the toes sharply.
Cramps during exercising can be brought on by a number of factors. Dehydration or sweating too much can create an imbalance in electrolytes (potassium and sodium) in the blood and overexertion or muscle fatigue, are common causes as well.
For relief of a muscle cramp that has already begun, try any of the following:
Stretch the muscle by straightening the leg and flex your foot upward.
Massage the muscle to relax it and apply a cold pack to reduce the blood flow and relax the muscle. Another good cure for a muscle cramp is to take a hot bath or use a heating pad for relief.
In addition, here are some practical ways to prevent muscle cramps.
Always do several stretching exercises before and after workouts and keep your body hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
If a cramp occurs while working out, drink either water or some sort of sports drink immediately. Remember, do not over-fatigue muscles and do not point your toes while stretching or sleeping. These sensible solutions can help both, prevent a muscle cramp or help to alleviate the pain that occurs from one quicker. Trust me, I know, although I wish I didn’t.
No one really knows how muscle cramping and dehydration are related, but it is known that dehydration can be a precursor to leg cramps. Recommendations call for at least three full glasses of water each day, including one before bedtime. Of course, you should also drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercising or competing.
It is a known fact that stretching regularly can relax muscle fibers. I was always taught as a youth by my father, reknowned track and field coach, George “Papa Bear” Williams, that stretching, especially post-competition stretching, was the best way to prevent cramps and relax muscles.
Train in moderation
The idea of any exercising regimen is to gradually climb up Mt. Everest, not try to conquer it in one day. Sudden changes, or more importantly – increases -in athletic activities can easily cause muscle cramps in the legs.
Now on to the good part – how do you make a charley horse or muscle cramp go away?
Well, after the initial shock – and pain – that usually makes people either grab their leg and writhe in pain or try to massage it out, the best remedy of all is to try and stretch the muscle. This of course, has to be done very gently. After relaxing the muscle, a good warm bath or shower is always a good way to relax the muscle, however, I prefer sitting as opposed to standing – especially for a leg injury. Obviously, if cramps become a persistent and recurring problem, you should immediately go to be evaluated by your doctor.
Many times, electrolyte imbalances in the body can cause cramping so your physician may want to take some blood to analyzed that the levels of potassium and other electrolytes are normal. There are also multiple muscle-relaxing medications that can be prescribed if the muscle cramping is a chronic problem, particularly at night.
So there you have it all about charley horses and muscle cramps – now if only I could get up out of this chair without some assistance.