The common name for muscle cramping or spasms cramp is Charley horse. Muscle spasms are common in all muscles of the body, but mostly occur in the legs. A muscle contracts and fails to return to a relaxed position when it is in spasm.
There are many factors that cause a muscle to cramp. The most common causes of Charley horse are:
- insufficient blood flow to the muscle
- exercising in harsh weather
- overuse of a muscle
- muscle injuries during exercise
- stress, particularly in the neck muscles
- not warming up before exercise
- spinal nerve compression
- low potassium levels
- mineral depletion
Thousands of people are affected by this condition, and experience muscle cramps mostly at night or when they are asleep. The symptoms usually take place when an individual is lying in an uncomfortable position for a long time.
Unluckily, you can become a victim at any age. Moreover, muscle spasms and a Charley horse can occur at any time of the day.
Charley horses occur more often among these categories of people:
- obese individuals
- older adults
- people who are on certain medications like diuretics
- individuals who smoke excessively
Generally, obese individuals are likely to experience Charley horses due to poor circulation in the legs. Athletes may experience Charley horses due to over use or muscle fatigue.
MRI scans are helpful in assessing whether nerve compression is the root cause of recurrent Charley horses. A detailed image of your body’s internal structures is produced with an MRI machine that utilizes radio waves and a magnetic field. Lab work may also rule out low levels of magnesium, calcium and potassium that lead to the development of this health problem.
The treatment relies on the underlying cause. In case a Charley horse is due to muscle overuse, massages and stretches can prevent the muscle from contracting further.
Heating pads also speed up the relaxation process and an ice pack is used to numb the pain. Your doctor will prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication if your muscle is sore for a longer time.
However, recurrent Charley horses need more aggressive treatment. In case of any serious nerve damage, you may require a specialist or physical therapist to help you recover. Surgery is recommended in extreme cases.
A few energy drinks and salt tablets can also be used in moderation after consulting your doctor. Muscle spasms also get better with time and rest. Learning how to exercise without injuring your muscles will also prevent spasms from occurring frequently.
Drinking plenty of fluids and consuming sufficient amounts of water during exercise also help to ease cramps that may arise due to dehydration.
In order to prevent Charlie horses, follow these preventive tips for a healthier life.
- warm-up before and after exercise
- do not exercise the same muscle group every day
- avoid exercise and sports in extreme weather conditions
- consume fluids and essential nutrients
- consume beverages that contain electrolytes and plenty of water
- stretch before going to bed
Your doctor should look for the root cause of the spasm. This will help you to avoid getting a Charley horse in future.