Charley Horses

Charley Horse Massage Techniques

Most of us have experienced a Charley Horse at one time or another – a sudden jolt of severe cramping in the muscles of the legs ( though they can occur in virtually any muscle) that abruptly wakes us from our sleep.  The sensation is a strong tightening and usually excruciating painful contraction of one or more leg muscles.  These involuntary spasms usually occur in the calf and thigh muscles and can run down to the feet making them freeze into a “claw-like” position.  The precise cause of a Charley Horse is not known and in most cases they are considered harmless.  Sometimes these muscle spasms may be linked to underlying disorders such as diabetes and peripheral artery disease.  As we age we are also more prone to this type of cramping – about 1 in 3 people over the age of 60 years and half of people over 80 years experience leg cramping on a regular basis.  Pregnant women, especially in their later terms, frequently experience Charley Horses.  Electrolyte imbalance, dehydration and certain medications can act as triggers as well as exercise and remaining in some positions for extended periods of time.

A Charley Horse occurs often when we sleep because we most commonly lie in a position with slightly bent knees and with our feet pointing downwards which shortens the calf muscle.  Remaining in this position for a prolonged period of time tightens the muscle which is then stimulated to contract.  The muscle then goes into spasm and cramps.  Exercise and the stress of using a muscle for a long time can bring on a spasm during or after exertion and sweating profusely during exercise depletes sodium levels and leads to muscle cramping.  A Charley Horse “attack” can last anywhere from a few brief seconds to several very long-lasting minutes.

If you suffer from Charley Horses, there are some stretching exercises that can help stop the episode when it comes on and even reduce how often they repeat in future.  Straightening the leg and bending the ankle backwards stretches out the calf muscle. You can also try standing up about one meter from a wall  leaning forward against the wall with arms stretched out and heels flat on the ground.
Stay in this position for about ten seconds and slowly return to an upright position. Repeat about 5 to 10 times.  When you are in bed and lying on your back you can prop up your feet with a pillow.  When you are lying on your stomach you can let your feet hang over the end of the bed.  Massaging the affected muscle helps to relax it and stops it from contracting.  Heating pads can help to speed up the relaxation process and ice packs can help numb the pain.

If you experience Charley Horses that are unbearable or that you feel are occurring  too frequently or may be related to an underlying condition, it is best to consult your Doctor.

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