AAAGGGHHH… Charlie Horse in my…

Don’t you hate those. Your minding you own business, running your race, or swimming your laps, or lifting your weights….OR your sleeping! And all of sudden WHAM @$&!.

What the BLEEP!

For anyone who was or is active in their life, the infamous Charlie Horse, more commonly termed a muscle cramp, is something we all wish we could have never experienced and only heard of or read about.

You get that searing  HOT or COLD feeling at the point of impact. It could be your calf (most common), or your thigh (Quadriceps or Hamstring complex), or your darn toe! You can’t move the joint or muscle affected and you can actually SEE the muscle stuck in a contracted position! (Did you ever see a toe cramp?)

I’ve experienced most of the above mentioned, including the toe cramp ( I was a competitive swimmer at one point in my life). Over the years experience and education have taught and shown me multiple ways to treat Mr. ED.

In all most all cases, you simply need to treat the cause. However it’s not always the easiest course of action. Most Charlie Horse cramps are due to fatigue mostly, followed up by dehydration, metabolic imbalances and lastly inflexibility (except for that damn toe – he doesn’t fit in any of those categories).

Common quackery used to tell you to massage the muscle cramp. Most recently I’ve heard and read to stretch the muscle at it’s source. I’m here to tell you that they all work, and they all DON’T work. Unfortunately each situation requires a different solution and you’ll never know which one to use, other than trial and error.

As an ATC I’ve treated them in some strange ways that in my humble opinion optimally eliminate your horse from trouncing on your day. Here are my list of pointers and tips on what to do in the event you become that unfortunate soul who meets Charlie:

  • If at all possible try to relax the limb that is affected. Almost always the cramp is due to a neural pathway misfiring. You get a temporary tetany to a muscle and the only way to stop is to relax. (Yeah, I know easier said than done)
  • When relaxing doesn’t work, you can sometimes trick your body (muscle) by contracting it. (This one rarely works)
  • Abuse the Contract/Relax Reflex Inhibition of your body. Contract the antagonistic muscle that is affected. (This takes practice)
  • Pressure point therapy to the belly of the muscle affected. This will hurt like a SOME-EN-NAH-GUN, but it’s highly effective. (this messes with your neural pathways as well but in a different way)
  • Heat or Cold therapy (This is a more long and drawn out process, not an immediate fix-er-upper)
  • Of course stretching the affected muscle always helps in the long run.

I use a combination of treatments depending on where I am at the time. (trying to stretch out my toe at 3am in bed can be tough) I wish I could give you a better explanation as to why with some great physiological research information, but I don’t. I do know from my own run-in’s with Charlie and treating my athletes and clients who meet up with Charlie the pressure point therapy works. It hurts like HECK, but it works. If you can apply pressure to that affected area anywhere from 15sec to 2min, it works wonders. It sometimes will just slow or stop the cycle long enough for you to stretch out the cramp and recover.

 

Does anyone have any tried and true methods they’d like to share?

 

 

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9 Responses

  1. if my foot cramps up (sometimes from getting on all tiptoes to reach the topshelf cereal…sometimes just while sleeping) I immediately hop out of bed and flex like the dickens. Those thing smart somethin’ awful!

  2. @Leslie Yes they do!

  3. ID LOVE YOU TO CHIME IN ABOUT THE STAPH!!

  4. Yes I have had those creepy cramps! Of course the stretch is always my first choice but if I have a deep one I get out the foam roller and start working it. I love my foam roller! Good post!

  5. I have found that if I feel a foot cramp coming on, if I immediately point my toes up, I can usually avoid the cramp.

    Might not work for everyone, but it works for me.

  6. I hate toe cramp. I usually only get it for a few seconds and my instinct reaction is usually to just straighten my legs out and if possible straighten my toes.

  7. @Mark I love using the foam roller for pre and post work-out stretching. I don’t own one personally, but it sounds like a great treatment for Charlie!

    @Jerry Each to his own! Maybe since you’re actually stretching out the muscle, it helps?

    @Tom Yep, I think it’s an inherent reflex.

  8. While doing some research on this topic I came across a very interesting article “Calf Injuries and Magnesium Deficiency.” I would suggest reading it, as it offers some very interesting information on the correlation of poor health and magnesium deficiency.

  9. @ Matt Thanks for the info!

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