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How Can I Relieve a Charley Horse?

Applying ice or heat may help relieve a charley horse.
Staying hydrated helps prevent charley horses.
A person may be able to relieve a charley horse by soaking in a warm bath for 20 minutes.
It's important for athletes to stay hydrated during athletic competitions.
Eating a banana can help prevent Charley horses.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2014
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A charley horse is a sudden contraction of a muscle, most often in the leg, that often occurs in the middle of the night. Virtually anyone can get a charley horse, and most people want to know how to relieve it quickly because the pain can be so intense. Though many of these cramps are of short duration, subsiding after a few minutes, some can persist for several days. To relieve the pain, try to relax the leg, slowly flexing and releasing the muscle, and apply ice or heat. You should also look at your diet to see if a lack of certain minerals is leading to the muscle cramps.

Athletes may be especially prone to these cramps, although they can affect pregnant women and nearly anyone in hot weather. There are a few ways to deal with them immediately. First, though pain is intense, try to relax. Reaction to severe pain usually means we tense up, which makes the muscle contract all the more. Take deep breaths and resist the urge to tense up all the muscles.

Second, try to lightly flex or relax the muscles involved to shift it from its frozen cramp state. If you can get to a freezer, grab some ice and apply it to the affected muscle. If the cramp continues, you may be able to relieve a charley horse by soaking in a warm bath for 20 minutes.

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You can also try light massage, but don’t put too much pressure on the cramped muscle. This may help promote relaxation sooner. If you’re pregnant and you get a sudden charley horse, be sure your toes are not pointed. Pointing the toes, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, often results in muscle cramping in the calves. Carefully and gently allow the feet and toes to relax to relieve pain.

Often, these cramps arise out of an imbalance in electrolytes. During hot weather, people may be more prone to them if they are drinking enough fluids. Another common cause is low levels of magnesium and calcium. People who suffer from charley horses frequently may be able to relieve them or even prevent them by taking a magnesium and calcium supplement right before going to bed. If you get one in the middle of the night, try taking a supplement at that time. Drinking a glass of milk before bed can also help.

A potassium imbalance may also cause these strong cramps. If you combine your glass of milk at night with a banana, it may go a long way toward preventing these cramps. People who run or compete in any sports may be more vulnerable, so some athletes keep potassium and magnesium supplements on hand to relieve a charley horse that occurs during activity. It’s also extremely important for all athletes to stay well hydrated, especially during athletic competitions.

If you get charley horses on a frequent basis, this may indicate the presence of essential deficiencies of minerals or more serious health issues. You may want to see a medical professional for more ideas on treatment, or to look for potential causes. Occasionally, when no specific health cause is found, healthcare professionals may prescribe muscle relaxants or tranquilizers to relieve a charley horse that does not respond to other methods for relief.

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anon344104
Post 16

Drinking tonic water (which contains a small amount of quinine) before going to bed, as well as during a cramp, is somewhat helpful. I also keep Tums (calcium) handy and chew two during a charley horse. Potassium, magnesium and regular calcium pills have helped me very little. The pain is literally excruciating, so I hope to hear others' ideas, too.

anon316459
Post 15

I'm 14 and I get charley horses very often. The pain normally lasts for a couple of minutes then I can fall back to sleep, but my leg continues to be sore for a couple of days. I am a dancer, so that may be a cause.

anon284883
Post 14

I am 33 weeks pregnant and was getting nightly debilitating leg and foot cramps for weeks! I also had pain in my legs every day after the cramps. I was told to take slow-release caltrate and to increase potassium in my diet. Within two days my leg cramps were completely gone! I hope this helps other people!

anon244363
Post 13

I seem to get Charley horses in my abdomen. I have three kids and my last was born by C-section. Ever since then I have suffered from these horrible cramps. They are unbearable to the point where all I can do is try to relax and stretch it out but then it goes around to my lower back. Has anyone else had these stomach charley horses?

anon239436
Post 12

Take two Calcium Citrate+D from Wal-mart a day and they should stop. I've not had but one or two with this 38 week pregnancy! I wish I had known that with my other three! I finally found an OB who knows what he's talking about!

anon236173
Post 11

Force yourself to stand on the cramping leg the instant you first feel a cramp. Walk on it vigorously, no matter how much that hurts at first. After a few steps putting real weight on the cramping leg, the pain releases. The longer you wait to put weight on the leg and walk on it, the harder it is to relieve the cramp.

anon190304
Post 10

I was always told (also by doctors) that one reason for charley horses is the consumption of too many liquids and not enough exercise to sweat those liquids out. The muscles build up with water. That's why you need the potassium, to help push the water out of the your muscles.

I'm not sure of this helps at all or is even remotely correct but this is what I have done all my life and when I get a charley horse, I hold my foot in the position where my toes are pointed towards my head. Then when the pain subsides, I reach for a banana and orange juice, since both are filled with ample potassium.

anon104737
Post 9

anon 18742, are you pregnant? Maybe you should look up the symptoms of sciatica. that's what I have and it sounds like what you're describing. It's very common and feels like a cramp, but its actually a pinched nerve in your back and there is no relief for it, even trying to lay down, or sit, no relief. you just feel shooting pains and cramping and like you may fall down. Look it up.

anon94193
Post 8

I get cramps on a daily basis. it is the most horrid pain next to natural childbirth one could have, I think.

It starts at the side of my calf and then proceeds down my shin to lock up my toes, my foot and my ankle in the most odd positions. Other than relaxers, the only thing that works for severe issues for me is scalding hot soak with Epsom salt or (not recommended) cutting off circulation above where is has started. I feel for all you all who go through this!

anon75774
Post 7

I've suffered sporadically for years with these in the middle of the night. If you can manage, and your bed is close to a wall, place your foot flat on the wall - the spasm in your leg stops immediately.

anon70254
Post 6

The product is called Hyland's leg cramps with quinine. I was told it works wonders quickly.

anon70252
Post 5

My grandmother buys a natural remedy pill specifically for charlie horses. She swears by these. You put one under your tongue and it dissolves really quickly. She said her cramps are gone as soon as it dissolves. Ill have to find out what the name on the bottle is. You cannot buy it in united states. She buys it from a catalog that's in canada. It's not an illegal drug. I'll try to find out the name and repost with the ingredients

anon50598
Post 4

I get charlie horses in my calves at least once a month or more. I have the pain for three to five days after. I have tried exercise, quinine, stretching, water, bar of soap in bed (old wives tale), warm compresses, cold, etc. I still can't find a cure after almost 20 years. I lose a lot of sleep from these and would love a cure. I get them in both calves and my toes.

anon42440
Post 3

I get charlie horses about once a month it seems and last night I had a huge glass of milk and still got a charlie horse. The pain was so intense that I couldn't move for almost ten minutes. I tried relaxing my muscles and massaging, but it only made the pain worsen.

anon40924
Post 2

I hope this is only a charley horse. the pain starts in one leg from my calf up to my thigh then to my abdomen and down the other thigh and leg. Had i been walking i would have fallen. the pain was so intense i began to start sweating really bad. I could not stand, sit, or lie down comfortably for maybe about 15 minutes. I thought i was having some type of attack. It stopped but my thighs and calf still hurt. Has anyone ever experienced this? if so what did you do?

anon18742
Post 1

I get terrible charley horses or cramps in the back of my right thigh..it runs from inside my thigh where my leg attaches and runs across the back towards the outside. These are mainly during the night..but occasionally any time of the day.

I have taken potassium and magnesium but get no relief. I also get cramps in my calves of my legs. I have gotten a cramp a few times in my left thigh too.

What I do is get up and shake my leg (sorta like Elvis) trying to make the muscle relax. It does help although it might take several minutes.

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