The Charley Horse is most commonly recognized as being a leg cramp, and stems as a result of a muscle cramp. The muscle cramp in the body is an uncontrollable suddenly contraction of a muscle group, and most commonly occurs in the legs.
Why the Name Charley Horse?
To be perfectly honest, there is no documented origin on why this term is used or how it came to be. It seems to be mostly used in America and has possible roots of origin in older baseball slang. One of the common theories behind this is that the Chicago White Sox (circa 1890s) had a lame horse named Charley who pulled the roller for the ballpark.
There is a possible earlier theory from the late 17th century based out of England that circles around the idea of Policemen being called Charleys at the time, who would get leg cramps after walking through rounds of the day. These are just two of the more common theories, but neither are the definite reasons.
What Causes a Muscle Cramp?
A cramp such as this will occur unexpectedly when a muscle forcefully contracts, and most common muscle groups to do this are the ones that cross over two joints. This type of cross-joint cramping occurs mainly in the calf (the cross of the ankle and knee), the quads (crossing of the knee and hip), and the hamstring (a differing muscle group crossing the hip and knee.)
Although the majority of cramps last less than a minute, there are some that can continue with duration upwards of several minutes. Some of these cramps can be so sudden and painful that they can wake a patient from sleep if they occur at night.
The most common cause amongst people who find themselves with a cramp is that they simply exercised in an odd way, whether they workout went on for too long or they tried to modify their routine by doing a new exercise. Some of the other factors that play into the chance of having a horse appear are general muscle fatigue, dehydration, weight, and electrolyte imbalances in the blood.
Preventing Leg Cramps
The best method of preventing a cramp from forming is to combat the causes before they happen. This is done first and foremost by keeping the body hydrated before, during, and after a workout session. Also an important prevention method is to stretch the body both before and after working out, as stretching can help to relax the muscle groups. Doing this after a workout as a means of relaxing the muscles is a good way to prevent the sudden contractions of them, which essentially is the way to directly prevent cramping from occurring post-workout.
The Best Way to Relax a Cramp
The best way to take care of a cramp that has occurred is to massage the affected area and gently stretch it. After a massage and light stretching, taking a hot shower or bath or putting a warm wet cloth to the affected area can help to relax the group and prevent a second cramp from occurring.
When Do I Worry?
If leg cramping in an area becomes a recurring problem, having the area evaluated by your doctor is not out of the question. It is possible for one area to be more susceptible to cramping due to electrolyte imbalance in the blood, so having the doctor examine your blood is an ideal method to knowing what is going on in the muscle group. If the problem continues, there exists medication to help combat it – even more so if they are occurring at night.
Leg cramps, while very painful in the short time, are something that can be readily prevented and quick to treat if you simply follow these few steps and enjoy a safe, painless, workout.