Muscle spasms (Charley horse)

Legs | Rheumatology | Muscle spasms (Charley horse) (Disease)


Anyone who has experienced a muscle cramp (charley horse) can attest to the fact that it can be quite painful. Muscle cramps occur when muscles involuntarily contract and cannot relax. The skeletal muscles (those over which we have voluntary control) are most prone to cramping. The skeletal muscles in the calf, thigh, and arch of the foot are most notorious sites of cramps.

Cramps can be perceived as mild twhiches or may be excruciatingly painful. Typically, cramps cause an abrupt, intense pain in the involved muscle. Often a muscle that is cramping feels harder than normal to the touch or may even show visible signs of twhiching. Most cramps resolve spontaneously within a few seconds to minutes.

Causes and Risk factors

It is not known exactly why muscle cramps develop. Insufficient stretching before exercise, exercising in the heat, and muscle fatigue may all play a role in their causation. Imbalances in the levels of electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and phosphate) in the blood can also lead to muscle cramps.

Cramps can occur when you are resting, sleeping, or participating in sports or other daily activities. Anyone can develop a muscle cramp but infants, the elderly, the overweight, and athletes are at greatest risk for muscle cramps. Athletes most often develop muscle cramps at the beginning of a season when their body is not yet fully conditioned. Cramps in athletes can occur during or after periods of physical exertion.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If a person gets a muscle cramp while exercising, one strategy is to stop the activity and hold the cramped muscle in a gently stretched position until the cramp resolves. If a cramp occurs when a person is lying down, he/she may want to do just the opposite - put weight and walk on the cramping leg. Light massage may (or may not) help alleviate the pain. ...

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