What Causes a Charley Horse?

If you’ve ever had a charley horse you remember it well. The sharp, intense pain of your leg or calf muscle suddenly becoming tight and stiff can stop you right in your tracks. Muscle spasms are harmless for the most part, but could be related to some underlying issues like:

  • Not stretching enough before exercise
  • A magnesium or potassium deficiency
  • Dehydration, especially when combined with warm-weather sports
  • Inadequate blood flow to the muscle
  • Overuse of a specific muscle during exercise
  • Certain medications, like those taken for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and COPD

Whether you call it a cramp or charley horse, muscle spasms can last anywhere from seconds to minutes. Here are a few ways to ease the pain when it’s happening:

  • Stretch and massage the affected muscle
  • Flex your foot
  • Stand on the cramped leg
  • Use a heating pad to relax the muscle, and an ice pack to numb the pain
  • If your muscle is sore afterwards, take an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen

If your charley horses become more frequent and severe, talk to your doctor.


Stephanie Coleman, MD
Family Physician
Baton Rouge General Physicians - Family Medicine (Prairieville)

Book online!

September 24, 2019