I recently saw a patient who needed treatment for a charley horse – a muscle spasm typically occurring in the calf muscle. This patient was concerned because he had never experienced muscle pain like this, even though he had been an athlete all his life. He was relieved to know that a charley horse is a temporary condition with plenty of natural treatment options.
Although the name, “charley horse,” often means a muscle spasm in the leg, it can also refer to muscle spasms in other parts of the body, such as the neck or back. A charley horse usually occurs during exercise. In most cases the person is overworking the muscle, suffering from dehydration, or lacking a sufficient supply of potassium or calcium in the body. Let’s look at some of the natural and simple ways to treat, and hopefully avoid, a charley horse.
Heal Cramps Naturally
The patient I told you about had a charley horse in his calf that struck while he was running at full speed down the soccer field. The painful spasm he felt was his muscle contracting and being unable to relax. Many people describe the muscle as being “tied in a knot.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have also had patients who get muscle spasms while sleeping. Both types of charley horse have similar treatments. Here are some tips on what to do if this happens to you:
1) Try to relax – Stop the activity you are doing and relax the muscle by gently stretching and massaging it. If you have a calf spasm, massage from behind the knee, moving down towards the heel.
2) Go hot, then cold – If massage does not relax the muscle, a heating pad may help. If you are bruised and sore after the initial pain has subsided, try applying an ice pack.
3) Take a soak – In addition to applying heat, soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salts should also relax a sore muscle.
4) Replenish your body – In the hours and days after your muscle spasm, drink plenty of fluids to maintain hydration. Give your body the minerals it may be lacking by eating bananas for potassium and drinking calcium-fortified orange juice.
5) Take your vitamins – Potassium deficiency is often the cause of a charley horse, especially if it occurs while sleeping. However, taking other vitamins may help to heal it. Take a good quality supplement and be sure to get 400 I.U. of vitamin E, which may also help the healing process.
Keeping Muscles Healthy
Preventing a charley horse from recurring is fairly easy. First, make sure your exercise routine is not too strenuous. If you have frequent fitness-related injuries, you may be pushing too hard. Stretching regularly will increase muscle flexibility so your body will be more resilient when you push it to the limit.
Always drink fluids before, during and after intense activity, especially on hot days when it is easy to get dehydrated. If you will be exercising for an hour or more, bring along sports drinks, which replenish your lost fluids more efficiently than water. Finally, take those vitamins! Supplements protect your health in many ways, along with boosting the fitness of your muscles.
If you have a very painful charley horse that does not diminish with the previous treatments, see your doctor. If an irritated nerve is causing the pain, you might be treated with physical therapy. Your physician can help determine what caused the muscle spasm and get you on the road to recovery.