Previously published on Factoidz.com
Many diseases and disorders that we suffer from often get colloquial names, even before the medical community gets time to research such conditions and classify and name them. The term Charley (also spelled Charlie) horse is one such popular term used in the United States to represent the painful spasms and muscle cramps that one suffers in the leg, calf muscles and the muscles in the arch of the foot. The Charley horse is most often felt at night after one has gone to bed; but it can also be felt by athletes. Some people also use this term to talk about the shearing pain of the thigh muscles that causes temporary disability to the legs. People in the United Kingdom and countries ruled by them use different terms like chopper, granddaddy or a dead leg to express the pain. Australians call a Charley horse a corky.
The term Charley horse has been traced back to several possible beginnings. Some historians attribute the Charley horse to the famous American baseball pitcher of the 1880s, Charlie Old Hoss Radbourn, because he suffered from frequent leg cramps. There is another possible origin for the term Charley (Charlie) horse; back in the olden days an old horse ready to be retired was called Charlie. The term was then attributed to people participating in sports; if a person reported they had a Charley horse, they were not allowed to play.
Football players and other athletes are at risk for developing Charley horses. Quite often, these extremely painful muscle spasms are caused by an electrolyte imbalance, which is secondary to dehydration. It’s important for everyone to drink enough water so that the cramps won’t strike you without warning. Don’t wait to get thirsty to have a drink. By the time you feel thirsty you are already getting dehydrated.
Charley horses are quite common during pregnancy and in the elderly. Some other underlying causes have also been identified in hormonal imbalance, dehydrations, low levels of minerals and essential salts for the body. A Charley horse can also be attributed to the adverse effects of certain medications. Some serious diseases such as diabetes related neuropathy or lateral sclerosis can also cause symptoms that are similar to the Charley horse.
How to treat a Charley horse
Most physiotherapists suggest rest along with applying ice to the painful area. The cramps of a Charley horse are generally caused from unusual muscle contractions and tightening which can be caused from exercise or from an electrolyte imbalance. Doctors and physiotherapists suggest that you should gently massage the painful muscles to increase the blood supply to the area; thus, gentle massaging of the calf muscle also helps to sooth away the discomfort. With a Charley horse, the muscle involved gets rigid and sometimes will even show visible signs of twitching when compared with surrounding muscles. The pain is abrupt and very intense; it forces the individual to stop all activity and attend to the pain. Upon simple massaging and relaxing, most of the cramps vanish as quickly as they came. However, in some cases, the pain of the Charley horse persists and medical attention is needed.
Prevent Charley horses
There is no specific time or condition when a Charley horse could attack a person’s muscles. The Charley horse often occurs when someone is resting, sleeping or while involved in the activities of daily living. It is important that if you are an athlete or you are engaged in heavy exercise, that you should always warm up before the activity. Heavy sweating causes loss of essential water and salts in the body; therefore it is important to replenish these electrolytes. Most sports events provide the players with sports drinks to replace those lost salts. Doing this will prevent those painful cramps and exhaustion.
If you are not involved in much physical activity and you have frequent muscle spasms from Charley horses, there could be an underlying cause; therefore, it is advised that you see your medical professional as soon as possible. Even if they do go away with massage, it is better to report them to your doctor because you could have a condition related to poor blood circulation or an electrolyte imbalance that may need medical attention.
Old Hoss Radbourn