What Is a Charley Horse (And How Do You Prevent Them)?

Up to 60% of adults and 40% of children experience leg cramps during the night. These cramps often last a few seconds to several minutes and are more likely to occur as you age.

If you ever find yourself with these extreme pains, you might be wondering what you can do about them. In this quick guide, we’ll explain what is a Charley horse and how to prevent them.

What Exactly Is a Charley Horse?

A Charley horse is another name for a muscle spasm. They occur in any muscle, but it’s more common in the legs. Pain levels range from mild to severe and can have effects that linger for hours or days.

Charley horses are often harmless but can provide discomfort and have a negative effect on your sleep.

Why Is a Muscle Spasm Called a Charley Horse?

There are several theories where the term “Charley Horse” originated. It is widely believed to have started with two baseball players named Jack Glasscock and Joe Quest to describe muscle injuries and pains.

Another theory is that the name came from a horse named Charley who dragged equipment at the ballpark. It is said that players compared their limps from the muscle spasms to Charley’s gait.


Charley horses are caused by:

  • Poor blood flow
  • Stress
  • Nerve compression
  • Exercising without stretching
  • Taking diuretics
  • Dehydration
  • Low mineral levels
  • Activities in the heat
  • Kidney disease

These spasms can also be the result of prescription medication. They occur most often in the evening hours and among older individuals.


There are not many symptoms outside of the muscle spasms with Charley horses. Most experience a sudden sharp pain when a muscle contracts in their calf.

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While Charley horses aren’t a major medical emergency, some methods provide muscle spasm relief. Charley horses require different means of treatment based on the root of the spasm.

If you are experiencing pain due to exercise, consider a massage to increase blood flow and soothe your sore muscles. Heating pads, Epsom baths, stretches, ice packs, or over-the-counter pain relief are all forms of Charley horse relief.

When dealing with recurring Charley horses that don’t improve with self-care, seek medical help. You may need to have surgery to treat the problem or have another underlying cause.


There are several ways to prevent Charley horses from occurring. Always stretch before exerting your muscles, such as with exercise or long walks. Keep your body hydrated by drinking more water, don’t exercise in extreme heat, and avoid working out the same muscles for two days in a row.

Eating a potassium-rich diet works for Charley horse prevention because when we’re dehydrated we experience potassium loss that results in these muscle spasms.

Prevent Charley Horses

If you dream of sleeping through the night without the pain of Charley horses, there are several things you can do to avoid them. After incorporating stretches and more water into your day-to-day, Charley horses will become few and far between.

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