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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.
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.