A charley horse is a muscle spasm anywhere in the body, although they usually occur suddenly in leg muscles. You can experience a charley horse while exercising, playing sports, or sleeping. This kind of muscle spasm can last several minutes and be very painful.
Though a charley horse might occur for many reasons, ongoing cramping could indicate an underlying disease. Eric Mai, MD, at STL Vein & Cosmetics, specializes in identifying and treating the underlying causes of a charley horse and other leg discomforts. Read on to find out more about charley horses and what could be triggering yours.
What is a charley horse?
A charley horse is another term for a muscle cramp, usually in the leg, although it can occur anywhere. In such a muscle spasm, part of a muscle, an entire muscle, or a group of muscles suddenly, involuntarily, and painfully contracts. The affected musculature is palpably hardened and unable to move. Muscle cramps only last for a short time (seconds to minutes) and then go away on their own.
Severe charley horses can cause soreness lasting anywhere from a few hours to a day. This prolonged achiness is normal and should go away on its own. If the pain doesn’t subside, Dr. Mai can help you determine if your charley horses are linked to an underlying condition that requires pain relief and treatment.
Are varicose veins causing my charley horses?
Vascular diseases such as varicose veins, caused by venous insufficiency, often form in the legs, making them feel heavy and tense. If varicose veins are causing frequent leg cramps, you might also experience:
- Leg achiness or heaviness that worsens at the end of the day
- Calf or ankle swelling that worsens at the end of the day
- Restless leg syndrome
Varicose veins are most commonly identified by the bluish bulging blood vessels just beneath the skin's surface. However, sometimes varicose veins bulge inward, so you might not see visible signs. Leg swelling can also obscure visible varicose veins as well.
Other common charley horse triggers
Reduced blood flow, overexertion, or dehydration also trigger charley horses. Other common causes for a charley horse include:
- Not stretching enough
- Being active in hot weather
- A lack of potassium or magnesium in your diet
- A pinched nerve
- Kidney disease
Many medications also trigger muscle spasms, including:
- Tolcapone (Tasmar)
- Furosemide (Lasix)
- Nifedipine (Procardia)
- Donepezil (Aricept)
- Raloxifene (Evista)
- Neostigmine (Prostigmine)
- Asthma medications
- Statin medications
For a long time, experts considered dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance primarily responsible for charley horses' development. But your nervous system could also play an important role, particularly the nerves in the spinal cord. If you have a herniated disc or a spinal canal narrowing, muscle cramps in the legs occur more frequently.
Don’t live with painful muscle cramps
Anyone who frequently suffers from muscle cramps or feels severe pain should see a doctor.
With two offices in St. Louis, Missouri, our STL Vein & Cosmetics team specializes in treating vascular conditions that cause leg pain like charley horses. Call or request an appointment online today.