Charley horse pain in the calf of a male jogger. Could be muscle cramp!

What are Charley Horses?

Why do I get Charley Horses?

This is a question that I was pondering one day while experiencing agonizing pain in my calf area.  Oh, I remember that experience like it was yesterday…

It was a dark, gloomy night – I was lying in bed, dreaming about an alternate reality when I awoke with a sharp sensation prickling in my calf area. I thought something bit me, but no! The pain had gone from moderate, to severe, and continued to grow to something beyond comprehension.

My calf was engulfed in a vacuum of pain. I was rolling around in my bed while grasping my calf for dear life – praying for God to end the suffering.

It was as if knives were digging deeper into a muscle that I had no way of withdrawing. What have I done in my past life to deserve such excruciating pain that has rendered me disabled for the longest 15 minutes of my life?

I had no idea what to do… rolling did not seem to fix anything. Raising it made the pain worse. I soon realized that rubbing the calf would reduce the pain. So, I rubbed it vigorously and it seemed to work.

Yes, rubbing the calf area when experiencing a Charley horse does seem to relieve the pain. I managed to find a temporary solution for a possible permanent problem.

Therefore, the question remains… Why do I get Charley horses?

What are charley horses?

Charley horses are annoyingly painful cramps that can frequently center on your calves area.

A Charley horse is just another name for a muscle cramp, caused by involuntary muscle spasms and/or contractions. Once the muscle contracts, the pain can be severe and quite disabling. It may only last for a couple of seconds, but can leave soreness in the area for a few hours or even days (I know this from experience).

How do I stop a muscle cramp?

As mentioned earlier, your best bet is to rub the affected area to relieve the pain. Standing up and placing weights on the other non-affected leg will also help in case rubbing fails to relieve the pain.

Did you know?

Muscle cramps are quite common, so do not freak out after experiencing your first spasm.

Also, although the most common Charley horses occur in legs, a Charley horse can actually occur in any muscle of the body. Oh yes, you can even get a Charley horse on your arm! What is most surprising is that they can even arise in the middle of the night while you are resting comfortably in your bed!

Why is it called Charley horse?

According to one theory, there was a pitcher named Charley “Old Hoss” Radbourne who would constantly suffer cramps during games in the 1880s. These cramps occurred so much, his name soon became synonymous with them!

Why do I keep getting Charley horses?

Cramps are normally caused by:

  • Inadequate blood circulation to your muscle
  • Muscle injuries and trauma
  • Exercises that consist of excessive workouts to the muscle
  • Excessive overuse of a muscle during exercise or daily activity
  • Not stretching before exercise or laying in bed
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Magnesium and/or potassium deficiency
  • Nerve compression in the spine

How can I prevent Charley horses?

It is difficult to prevent an injury or cramp that has not occurred yet, unless you can see into the future. If that’s the case, then why haven’t you won the lottery yet!?

For most of us who cannot see into the future, there is some hope to prevent a Charley horse! We may be unable to see into the future, but we can prepare our bodies so that the risk of injury is low.

To help stop cramps, it is encouraged that you:

  • Eat healthier foods that are rich in magnesium and calcium
  • Stay well-hydrated
  • Stretch properly before exercising or laying in bed
    • A common preventative stretch is the “toe touch”: stand with your feet together, knees slightly bent. Using the lower half of your body to carry your weight and keep your back straight, slowly reach down toward your toes. If you are tight in the calves, this stretch should bring about a good “stretching” feeling.
  • Exercise and maintain healthy weight

What should I do if the cramps keep coming back?

Normally a leg cramp will end within minutes. However, if it keeps coming back, then you should visit your doctor and let him or her know. A recurrent muscle spasm should get looked at by your doctor. A doctor may suggest undergoing an MRI to determine whether there is any nerve damage. A doctor may also suggest obtaining laboratory work to verify that you have the recommended amount of nutrients.

Hold your horses!

Are you suffering a charley horse and do not know where to go to? Visit Healthpointe where we have physicians who are experts in the field of musculoskeletal anatomy and physical therapy.

About Healthpointe

Healthpointe is a leading multidisciplinary healthcare organization offering a full range of medical services in practice locations throughout Southern California (Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Bernardino County, and Riverside County). We are proud of our record of excellence over the last four decades with injured workers, personal injuries, athletes, and more. For more information, a complete list of services, and Healthpointe locations, visit

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Roman A. Shulze


About Brandon Davila

Hello! This is Brandon Davila, the Content Manager of Healthpointe. I’m a lifelong learner and chronic book-reader with a strong passion for the healthcare industry and search engine optimization. For more of Brandon, check out his articles on the Healthpointe blog.

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