What do you do when you get a "Charlie Horse" in your leg? How can you prevent them?
Typically, Charlie Horses are muscle spasms of either the hamstring or calf muscles. They occur when the muscle is suddenly contracted after being in a shortened state (like waking up in bed with a sharp cramp) or when over-exerting the muscle such as when sprinting.
To prevent these it is important to gently stretch the muscle regularly to train it to handle the stretch without going into a spasm. Calf and hamstring stretching can help with this. Long slow repetitive stretches can reduce the chances of the spams, especially before bed. Good diet and hydration may help also.
So what do you do in the middle of a Charlie Horse to try to get relief? A very effective but tricky way to reduce a spasm in your calf while in bed would be to immediately role over onto your stomach and let the bed hold your foot in a position that points your toes down (away from you). It is important you do not actively try to point your toes down while getting into this position. By taking the stretch off the muscle, it can relax quicker.
The same is true for the hamstring. Try to pull your knee into a more flexed position using your hand and NOT flex your knee with your leg muscles. Relax and wait for the muscle to relax.
Most people to quickly LENGTHEN the muscle, but this can put the muscle into a sharper spasm. Here, we are trying to shorten the muscle further without contracting it.
By: Steve Bartz, PT
Steve Bartz, PT