The muscles of your calf or foot suddenly becoming extra tight and severely painful, is a muscle cramp. Also called charley horses, because of pain in the calf muscles.

A cramp is involuntary contraction of one or more muscles. Other muscles prone to spasms are the front and back of the thigh, the hands, arms, abdomen, and rib cage muscles.

Charley horses relatively occur after exercise, or suddenly during sleep. It may last for several seconds or can continue several minutes.

Muscle cramps happen because of

  • poor blood circulation in the legs
  • overexertion of the calf muscles during activity
  • insufficient stretching
  • exercising in the heat
  • muscle fatigue
  • dehydration
  • magnesium and/or potassium deficiency
  • calcium deficiency in pregnant women
  • malfunctioning nerves, that could be caused by a spinal cord injury or pinched nerve in the neck or back
  • nerve compression and restricted blood circulation to the muscle

A charley horse cramp is also regarded in the hamstrings (back of thigh) and quadriceps (front of thigh). Charley horses may also occur in the muscles of the rib cage, abdomen, arms, hands and feet.

Rehabilitation and prevention for a charley horse

Hot therapy helps relieve muscle soreness and tenderness. Also, helpful is a hot bath.

Cold compression therapy helps relieve muscle tension. The conventional RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) technique is a home-remedy to continually supplement before and after activity (exercise). Ice the muscle 15 to 25 minutes, every three hours.

Elevation helps circulation and reduce pain.

Always warm up your muscles prior to stretching.

Stretching should occur before and after exercise

Adequate hydration can prevent muscle cramps. A diet particularly consisting of potatoes, spinach, lima beans, prunes, raisins and bananas, help prevent muscle cramps by nourishing potassium. Potassium is a mineral that regulates muscle contractions; potassium deficiency is a cause of spasms.

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