A sudden, intense pain experienced in a muscle could very well be a charley horse. This is a type of muscle spasm that occurs whenever fibers in the muscle contract randomly. They can be reasonably uncomfortable cramps that result in mild to intense pain. A charley horse often goes away after a few seconds, but they can last long enough to make daily tasks difficult. Charley horses are particularly unpleasant if the individual suffers from recurring charley horses that happen multiple times a week. Thankfully, there are quite a few things patients can do to reduce the pain of a charley horse and prevent them from recurring. Get to know these treatment and prevention options now.
Stretch And Massage The Area
This method works best when patients are dealing with a charley horse triggered by exercise. Individuals who get a sudden spasm while running, swimming, biking, or performing other exercises, should stop what they are doing immediately and begin to stretch and massage the area. Begin the treatment by firmly massaging wherever the charley horse is occurring. This should help the muscles stop cramping almost immediately. As the muscles start to loosen up, the individual can move to less firm massaging that goes along the entire length of the muscle where the charley horse is appearing. Once the cramp is gone, the patient may notice the area feels a little sore and stiff. They can do some stretches to alleviate this. Charley horses are most common in the legs, so individuals should consider options like bending over slow to touch their toes or bending their leg backward until their foot touches their bottom. They can also gently lean from side to side and front to back to stretch core muscles, or pull their arm across their chest to stretch arm muscles.
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The medication a patient takes for a charley horse will depend on how frequent and severe their condition is. For mild spasms, doctors will normally start by suggesting over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen. These help block the pain signals the body creates during a muscle spasm. However, for more severe issues with charley horses, patients may need options that address the root of the problem. Medications called antispasmodics help prevent muscles from contracting. A prescription for antispasmodics is necessary, so patients should talk to their doctor if they think it could help. Keep in mind both painkillers and antispasmodics will not immediately provide relief for charley horses. It can take about a half hour for a painkiller to kick in, and antispasmodics may not be entirely effective until one to two hours after being taken. This means they are a better option for treating recurring charley horses instead of the occasional random spasm.
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Drink Plenty Of Water And Electrolytes
The underlying cause of charley horses is often due to dehydration, so drinking plenty of water and electrolytes can be very beneficial. Electrolytes include potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and other substances that help conduct electricity. They are critical because proper electrolyte balances help maintain water levels and keep nerves from misfiring. If a patient thinks they lack electrolytes, consider eating coconut water, bananas, potatoes, pickles, milk, and spinach. They can also get electrolytes in sports drinks formulated to help with hydration. Individuals should try to drink at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day to ensure they are getting adequate water throughout the day. Making sure to maintain hydration and electrolyte levels is particularly important if the individual loses a lot of water due to sweating, intense exercising, or by drinking diuretics like coffee, black tea, or alcohol.
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Avoid Exercising In Severe Weather
Since charley horses tend to happen after exercising, individuals need to be particularly careful about their habits when they are trying to get into shape. One of the most important things to do is avoid exercising in severe weather because it is so easy to get dehydrated. Any time it is very hot, individuals can get dehydrated and develop charley horses more easily. Keep in mind that humid, hot weather tends to cause more sweating than dry, hot weather. This happens because the body cannot evaporate sweat as easily in humid air, so it produces more and more sweat in an attempt to stay cool. Any time weather is severe like this, individuals need to exercise caution before going outside for physical activity. They should consider exercising indoors if possible, and if they must exercise when it is hot outside, drink a lot of extra water and take additional electrolytes.
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Avoid Exercising Same Muscle Groups
The other common cause of charley horses besides dehydration is overwork. When a muscle is put through too much too quickly, it cannot get proper blood flow, so it may begin to spasm. Fortunately, dealing with overworking a muscle is generally very simple. All individuals need to do is make sure to avoid exercising the same muscle groups day in and day out. Muscles do best when they are allowed some time to rest. If individuals continue to deal with muscle spasms even after addressing hydration and other causes of charley horses, they should take a look at their exercise regimen. For instance, instead of trying to do thirty repetitions of a bicep curl in a row, try breaking it down into three sets of ten and doing other exercises in between each rep. This gives the muscles a little time to recover during the workout, so individuals are less likely to suffer from charley horses.