Here’s how to prevent painful charley horses

For such an awful, paralyzing pain, the term “charley horse” sounds just a little too cute — certainly, it’s a name better suited for a toddler’s favorite horsey at the neighborhood carousel than it is for the sudden cramping that can seize your calf, thigh, or foot. The use of the term dates back to 1886, when a baseball player said that when afflicted with these cramps, his fellow ballplayers “limped around like an old horse named Charley” (per The Healthy). It’s not a surprise that an athlete coined the term, though, because muscle strains and overuse, and not stretching before and after vigorous exercise, are all common causes of this ailment.

According to Medical News Today, people who are pregnant, elderly, have certain muscle diseases, or electrolyte imbalances, may also be prone to these sudden cramps; they also can be a side effect of certain drugs, several of which, ironically, are used to treat pain, like Naproxen. Charley horses are more likely to happen at night, and more than half of all adults experience them at some point in their life (per American Family Physician).

Stretching is the key to preventing charley horses

Now that you know all about charley horses, how do you giddyup them out of your life? Stretching before and after exercise, and also before you go to sleep at night, will prevent these painful spasms, according to Healthline. “You want your muscles to be as strong and supple as they can be,” sports medicine specialist Caitlin Lewis, MD, told Cleveland Clinic. “Adequate stretching after a brief warm-up period or after a shower is key to this.” Calf stretches are especially helpful; you can stand with your palms against a wall and stretch each calf so it’s fully extended, or sit on the floor or a bed with your toes pointed, then use a towel to lift up your leg, keeping it straight. 

Your diet also can help rein in those charley horses. Choose foods rich in magnesium and vitamins (per WebMD). “Staying hydrated with plain water and/or electrolyte replacement drinks like Gatorade can also prevent Charley horse,” Jennifer Beck, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at UCLA Health in Los Angeles, told The Healthy.

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