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What causes a charlie horse?


 Here's the scene: You're just dozing off, snug in your bed, when WHAM!  Suddenly your right calf muscle contracts into a big ball of hurt. You throw back the covers and jump out of bed, nearly falling over as you hop on one foot, desperately massaging the offending muscle - all the while trying not to wake the rest of your household...

The old Charlie Horse. Everybody gets one from time to time. A Charlie Horse, otherwise known as a nocturnal leg cramp can be the result of something simple like too much exercise or breaking in a new pair of shoes. Or it could be caused by something more sinister, like a medical condition.

Chronic health problems such as diabetes can cause problems with leg cramps. Hormone imbalances, pregnancy and vascular problems can also be the cause, as can a bad case of the stomach flu with diarrhea.

A deficiency in the electrolyte, potassium may bring on leg cramps. Potassium is an essential element the body requires in order to regulate heartbeat and blood pressure. A deficiency in potassium can not only cause leg cramps, but also a host of other symptoms like chronic fatigue, muscle weakness and memory problems. To decrease the chance of having a potassium deficiency, it is important to eat a well balanced diet, that includes potassium rich foods such as bananas, orange juice, dried apricots and raisins, peas and potatoes. Also include foods rich in vitamins A, E, calcium and magnesium as these work in harmony with potassium to maintain the balance of fluid within the cell walls and keep muscle tissue relaxed  and not cramped into a knot.

Certain prescription medications, in particular blood pressure medications such as hydrochlorothiazide-type diuretics, beta blockers and ACE inhibitors can deplete the body of potassium and thereby increase the likelihood of leg cramps. Talk to your doctor if this becomes a problem and he or she may prescribe a potassium suplement or suggest a dietary change.

Athletes already know that simple dehydration can also bring on a Charlie Horse. Many non-sporty folks don't drink enough fresh water each day and end up lunging around the bedroom in the middle of the night with an easily preventable cramp. If you feel thirsty - you are already becoming dehydrated. It is recommended that we drink 6 - 8 glasses of water every day to stay properly hydrated.

Once you are in the midst of a cramp, try gently massaging the calf muscle, applying a warm compress - or ice, depending on which feels better to you at the time, or stretch the calf muscle by grabbing your toes and gently pulling them back toward you (best to do this while sitting down of course...).

Remember, if muscle cramps are frequent and bothersome, it is best to have a talk with your doctor to determine the cause and the best treatment for you.


  • Ashley 4 years ago

    This happens to me all the time and i never knew why, now i do so thank you!

  • Hilda Stephens 4 years ago

    I have been having charlie horses and the best remedy that a old fashioned Doctor gave a friend was to rub plain rubbing alcohol on the leg for a minute and this works for me. I keep a bottle on my nightstand. Hope this works for you.

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    "as these work in harmony with potassium to maintain the balance of fluid within the cell walls and keep muscle tissue relaxed and not cramped into a knot.'

    cell walls? maybe if your a tree.

  • sigh 3 years ago

    and this is y ur not a doctor

  • Megan 4 years ago

    lmao to the post above..i get these ALL the time so now I am going to try and watch my diet and potassium levels and see if they go away (hopefully)...

  • Vick 3 years ago

    I have chrlie horses all the time. what makes it go away for me is to walk on it. It disappers within a minute.

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    i get them alot

  • cher150 4 years ago

    I wish mine were just in the caleves of my legs but for several months I have also been having them in my feet, shins, thigh joints. hands, and last week I started having them in my back. I am miserable, not a day or night goes by without multiple spasms. I have tried all the vitamins, minerals, water... I am at a loss and the doctors "just don't know"...

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    Is it normal that my charlie horse is currently lasting more than 2 days? It hurts wheneveri walk...

  • tiffany 3 years ago

    i get them too i tried to walk on my legg's when i get them very badly and they feel like jellow and in the morning they hert alot

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    Quellitall seems to work for a lot of people.

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    i get these sometimes but whenever i do it only lasts for like two minutes then its over .

  • cherrybaby1142 3 years ago

    idk why, but for the last three weeks ive been having unbearable pain right in the middle of my calf. they happen late at night or in the evening. if i twist a certain way, the pain just shoots all over my calf. ive had about...say four or five in the last three weeks. sometimes i just have this feeling that its gonna happen, and it does. othe times its justt out of the blue. my best friend told me only old people get charlie horses, and im only 15, so i wanted to know what to know what the heck was wrong with my leg....i aslo only have them in my right leg... but now i know whats wrong so thanks for the memo, lol..B)

  • Anonymous 3 years ago

    We just use a tablespoon of yellow mustard. Works in seconds