What To Do For Severe Charley Horses

What To Do For Severe Charley Horses


Charley horses, also known as muscle cramps, can be incredibly painful and uncomfortable. They occur when a muscle involuntarily contracts and tightens up, causing severe pain. While they are usually harmless and temporary, they can disrupt sleep or daily activities. If you are experiencing severe charley horses and are looking for effective remedies, this article will guide you through various options to alleviate the pain and prevent future occurrences.

What Causes Charley Horses?

Charley horses can be caused by several factors, including:

  • Dehydration: When your body lacks sufficient fluids, it can lead to muscle cramps.
  • Electrolyte Imbalances: Not having enough electrolytes such as potassium, calcium, or magnesium can contribute to muscle cramps.
  • Overuse of Muscles: Engaging in vigorous physical activities or overexertion of muscles can result in charley horses.
  • Poor Circulation: Reduced blood flow to specific muscles can cause cramping.
  • Nerve Compression: When nerves are compressed or pinched, it can lead to muscle cramps.

How to Alleviate Severe Charley Horses

When faced with a severe charley horse, there are various remedies you can try to find relief:

1. Stretching the Affected Muscles

Gently stretching the affected muscle can help release the tension and alleviate the cramp. Pulling the toes towards the body or massaging the area can also provide relief.

2. Applying Heat or Ice

Applying heat or ice to the area can help relax the muscle and reduce inflammation. Experiment with both methods to determine which offers the most relief for your charley horse.

3. Taking Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can help reduce pain and inflammation caused by charley horses. Consult with a healthcare professional before taking any medication.

4. Drinking Fluids

If dehydration is causing your charley horse, hydrating yourself by drinking water or electrolyte-rich fluids can provide relief.

5. Practicing Regular Stretching and Strengthening Exercises

Regular exercise can help prevent muscle cramps by improving flexibility and strength. Incorporate stretching and strengthening exercises into your routine, focusing on the muscles prone to cramping.

6. Trying Massage Therapy

Massaging the affected area can help increase blood flow and relax the muscle, providing relief from severe charley horses.

7. Using Topical Analgesics

Over-the-counter creams or ointments containing menthol or capsaicin can help relieve pain caused by muscle cramps. Apply them directly to the affected area as directed.

8. Applying Epsom Salt Soaks

Add Epsom salt to warm water and soak the affected muscles for 15-20 minutes to alleviate pain and relax the muscle.

9. Taking Magnesium Supplements

If your charley horses are caused by a magnesium deficiency, taking magnesium supplements as recommended by a healthcare professional may help prevent future cramps.

10. Getting Adequate Rest

Getting enough rest and avoiding overexertion can help prevent muscle cramps. Make sure to get sufficient sleep and allow your body to recover between physical activities.

Preventing Future Charley Horses

While severe charley horses can be distressing, taking preventive measures can reduce the likelihood of future occurrences:

1. Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, especially during physical activities or in hot weather, to prevent dehydration-related muscle cramps.

2. Maintain Balanced Electrolyte Levels

Eat a well-balanced diet that includes foods rich in electrolytes such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium to ensure optimal muscle function.

3. Warm Up and Cool Down Properly

Before engaging in physical activities, warm up your muscles with stretching exercises. Afterward, cool down by gradually reducing your activity level and stretching again.

4. Wear Appropriate Footwear

Choose supportive footwear that fits properly to minimize the risk of muscle cramps in the feet and legs.

5. Avoid Overuse of Muscles

Avoid overexertion and pace yourself during physical activities to prevent muscle fatigue and subsequent cramping.

6. Consider Dietary Changes

Consult with a healthcare professional or dietitian to ensure your diet is well-balanced and provides sufficient nutrients to prevent muscle cramps.

7. Stretch Regularly

Incorporate regular stretching exercises into your routine, focusing on the muscles prone to cramping. This will help increase flexibility and reduce the risk of muscle cramps.

8. Manage Stress Levels

Stress can contribute to muscle tension and cramps. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as engaging in relaxation techniques or hobbies.

9. Listen to Your Body

If you feel any muscle tightness or discomfort, pay attention to your body’s signals and take appropriate steps to prevent the onset of severe charley horses.

10. Seek Medical Advice

If you frequently experience severe charley horses that interfere with your daily life, consult with a healthcare professional for further evaluation and targeted treatment options.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Can charley horses be a sign of an underlying medical condition?

In some cases, frequent or severe charley horses can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition such as nerve damage or circulation issues. It is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional if you experience persistent or worsening cramps.

2. Are there any specific foods that can help prevent charley horses?

Foods rich in electrolytes, such as bananas (potassium), dairy products (calcium), and leafy green vegetables (magnesium), can help prevent charley horses by maintaining proper muscle function.

3. How long does a typical charley horse last?

The duration of a charley horse can vary depending on the severity. Mild cramps may only last a few seconds, while severe cramps can persist for several minutes.

4. Can exercise increase the risk of charley horses?

Engaging in intense or strenuous exercise without proper warm-up or hydration can increase the risk of charley horses. However, regular, balanced exercise can help prevent muscle cramps by improving muscle flexibility and strength.

5. Are there any natural remedies for charley horses?

In addition to the remedies mentioned in this article, some natural remedies for charley horses include drinking pickle juice, taking turmeric supplements, or using essential oils for massage.

6. Can pregnancy contribute to frequent charley horses?

During pregnancy, the body undergoes hormonal changes and increased pressure on certain muscles, leading to an increased risk of charley horses. Seeking prenatal care and practicing appropriate preventive measures can help manage these cramps.

7. Can certain medications cause charley horses?

Some medications, such as diuretics or statins, may increase the risk of muscle cramps. If you suspect your medications are contributing to charley horses, consult with your healthcare provider for possible alternatives.

8. Are there any alternative therapies for severe charley horses?

Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) may provide relief for some individuals experiencing severe charley horses. It is important to consult with a qualified practitioner for guidance.

9. Can dehydration alone cause severe charley horses?

Dehydration can contribute to the occurrence of muscle cramps, but other factors such as electrolyte imbalances or overuse of muscles may also play a role. It is important to address all contributing factors for effective prevention and management of severe charley horses.

10. When should I seek immediate medical attention for a severe charley horse?

If a severe charley horse is accompanied by severe swelling, redness, and warmth in the affected area, or if you suspect a muscle or tendon tear, it is advisable to seek immediate medical attention to rule out any serious underlying conditions.


Severe charley horses can be debilitating, but there are several options to find relief and prevent future occurrences. By implementing preventive measures, staying hydrated, and maintaining a balanced diet, you can minimize the risk of muscle cramps. If severe charley horses persist or interfere with your daily life, it is always best to consult with a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation and personalized treatment plan.

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