Foot And Leg

How to Get Rid of a Charlie Horse

Ever had a sudden cramp creep up on your leg, when you least expected it or weren’t even doing some hard work? Well, if you have, you’ve had a Charlie horse. Though an odd name for a muscle cramp, Charlie horses are involuntary muscle cramps that happen in your legs and feet – sometimes even during sleep – that are frustrating, painful, and no laughing matter, especially when they wake you up from a great sleep.

Luckily, there are a few effective things you can do about Charlie horses without having to leave your house (not like you can anyway with such a painful contraction). Since everybody’s body is different, choose from these tips what works best for you to getting your calf/foot/thigh swelling down. Just be careful, when doing stretches, always do them properly or you may worsen your problem.

The pain can vary from mild to severe, but however painful it is, it’s still a frustrating thing that many of us have to deal with from time to time. Here are a few tricks to get rid of a Charlie horse’s painful muscle knots when they come to you, and some tips on preventing future ones from happening.

1. Stretch it out.

Sometimes when you encounter a muscle spasm in your leg, the best thing to do is stretch it out. As with all stretches, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing the right one for the muscle you’re targeting, and that you are doing it right – otherwise you could end up with a worse muscle cramp, and one that will last longer.

This stretch has been known to help fix up calf muscle spasms. First, face a wall, and hold your hands against the wall for support. Extend one leg backwards, keeping both feet flat and the rear knee straight. Lean forward towards the wall, bending your forward knee, until the rear leg starts to feel tense. You should hold this for 10 to 15 seconds.

2. Take a bath.

A nice, hot bath with Epsom salts is also an effective way to get rid of a Charlie horse, and it’s relaxing, to boot. The warmth of the bath will soothe your tense muscles and loosen them up, and perhaps will help tone down your anger at having a Charlie horse in the first place.

3. Cool it down.

Using an ice pack, or even a bunch of ice cubes in a sandwich bag or towel, apply ice directly on the affected muscle for about 5-10 minutes. The cold will help soothe the pain, however, you must never apply ice directly to the cramp. You don’t want an ice burn to boot! Be sure to place a thin cloth between your icepack and your skin.

4. Massage the cramp.

Take your thumb and apply a medium amount of pressure to your calf, foot, or thigh – wherever you are feeling the cramp. Don’t apply too much as you may worsen it – only gently massage it in a circular motion.

5. Put the leg up.

Simply raising your leg on your sofa or another chair or surface will help stretch the muscle out and increase circulation. Lay down on your couch and raise your leg up on the arm – you can massage it like this also, if you wish. Maybe then you can get a nap in after being woken up so rudely.

6. Prevention tips.

It doesn’t matter if you are a very active person or not, Charlie horses affect everybody at some point. A few slight lifestyle changes can work wonders for those who experience these cramps often. Here are a handful of precautions you can take to preventing them from happening, all of which are good for you anyway, so you may want to do them regardless:

7. Eat more potassium-heavy food.

Potassium-strong foods such as avocados, bananas, and oranges help muscle function and circulation – the two root things that affect how often you get Charlie horses. Eat more foods with lots of potassium to improve your muscles and overall health, or get supplements in form of tablets from your pharmacy.

8. Get more calcium and magnesium.

Calcium and magnesium also affect muscle function, circulation, and many other body functions, so it is always good to have enough in your diet. Dairy products and nuts have both of them in large amounts, so you should eat more of both if you experience Charlie horses often (even if you don’t, they are both very good for your health).

9. Stretch often.

Doing lunges and quad stretches often will prevent your calf, thigh, and foot muscles from spasms and tightening up. To do a quad stretch, stand straight and bend your leg backwards as far as it can go. Then, grab your foot behind you and hold it for ten seconds or so, alternating legs a few times as needed.

To do a lunge, get into a kneeling position on the floor. You’ll want one calf bent at the knee and you will want to be resting completely on the other. Then, raise yourself from the floor so that both knees are bent. Do this multiple times, as many as you feel you need to stretch yourself out.

10. Keep hydrated.

One of the most common reasons we get Charlie horses is because we are dehydrated. This is because the sodium levels in our body are too high and is affecting our circulation and muscle function. To keep our sodium levels down, it is important to drink lots of water – if you get Charlie horses when you sleep, you should drink a glass of water or two first.

Charlie horses are frustrating, sure, but they are fairly simple to fix using any of these tips. Since you may experience them in your sleep, some fixes may be more feasible than others in the heat of the moment, but they all nonetheless help soothe your muscles, stretch them out, and prevent them from happening again.

While they are not threatening, if they continue to happen more frequently for you, you may want to visit a doctor. It could be a sign of a larger muscle issue that you’ll need to get taken care of.

About the author

Nicole Harding

10 Comments

  • Also, if hit with a charlie horse, especially around the upper legs, knees, or feet, it helps to place yourself on a cold floor and walk around. Your feet have to touch the coolness of a surface and I think it does something to the blood flow in or around the contractions. Carpet or rugs doesn’t help. I’ve also heard that a swallow or two of tonic water helps as well. From personal experience both home remedies work, though the floor moreso. Try it!

  • Heat or Ice? Try alternating between the two. About 15 minutes of each, alternating over an hour long period. Then reassess. (Repeat as necessary)

  • Heat or Ice? Try alternating between the two. About 15 minutes of each, alternating over an hour long period. Then reassess. (Repeat as necessary)

    Ice pack to the bottom of your feet works to either alter the blood flow or distract you from the muscle pain. Easing the pain none the less.

  • The article says ice – not heat. heat causes the blood to come rushing to the injured area.
    Ice. For the quadriceps contusion type of charlie horse, applying ice to the affected area should be the immediate response. Keeping the leg in a fully bent position for 24 hours also helps in preventing further pain or spasms.

  • I think that you should use heat for the charley horse, because heat relaxes the muscles and if the muscles are relaxed the blood more more easily level up to your heart. If you use ice, it will most likely freeze the blood to where it is and take longer to heal.

  • I get my charlie horse first thing in the morning.
    Mine usually happens after prolonged sitting on the couch.
    For example this morning I was laying on the couch. Left leg on the couch, Right leg on the floor. The pain is extreme on the right leg.
    (mostly Upper quad to my knee) as if someone just burned it with a extremely hot object.
    Mine lasts for approx 1 hour. In the past if I tried to move my left leg down to the same position as my right leg the pain would stop. Today. That was not the case. The more I tried to lower the more pain I was in.
    **Important** apply a bag of peas, carrots, Ice Pack. this puts the leg into a “pins and needle” or what I like to call it “Jello state”

    The important thing is not to move too quickly (causes more pain). I have read online that if you massage the leg where it does not hurt in an upward motion towards your heart you are increasing blood flow to your heart.
    I asked my husband to massage my leg from my ankle to my knee (because anything above my knee was jammed up)

    Also once the leg releases and you can put yourself in a seated position. Try to slowly move the affected knee into bent position. If it does not allow. Keep applying ice to it and wait for that “jello state” or “numb” state where your leg is about to release
    Slowly get up, I highly recommend to walk around (get circulation Movement)
    I also highly recommend: Bananas and water

    If you get the problem daily and constantly: Get checked out by a doctor. Could be a blocked artery in your upper leg. Women could get that kind of pain as well from Spider veins in the legs.

    I also recommend once the release and you’re able to walk. Keep constant movement. Don’t sit for long hours (could start again) and don’t stand too long. Try to keep your muscle working.

    Even now I feel the pins and needles just not as heavy as before and this is 20 minutes later.
    I am keeping my bag of carrots with me just in case.

    Does anyone know if you can take Aspirin or Advil for the pain?
    Just wondering.

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