Last Updated: July 8th, 2022

Charley’s Horse is extremely painful. If you want to prevent it, this article will tell you how.

Charley’s Horse is actually a muscle spasm and it can occur to anyone whether the person is a beginner runner or an advanced one.

In this article, we will tell you how to prevent and treat these types of muscle cramps…

So, let’s get started…

How to treat and prevent charley's horse

What is Charley’s Horse?

Charley’s Horse is actually a muscle cramp or spasm. It is a feeling of stiffness that can happen anywhere in the body. However, it mostly occurs in the legs or the arms. It can happen during an intense exercise session and/or at any time during the day.

This happens when the nerves associated with the concerned muscle don’t work properly. This forces this associated muscle to freeze or stiffen in a contracted position.

Charley’s horse is a very painful muscle spasm and can make you limp for days. Even if the spasm goes away, which is typically within a couple of minutes of starting, the pain doesn’t go away. You will be sore for hours if not days. The longer the spasm, the worst the aftereffect.

Although Carley’s horse is a painful condition, it is rarely chronic. However, a slightly stiff feeling and pain can persist for some time.

Also, this kind of sudden muscle stiffness can occur in any part of the body, but it is more common in the legs, especially in the calf muscles. However, other areas that are more prone to such stiffness are the foot and the thigh.

Not only the athletes, but this can also happen to anyone and pregnant women and people with certain health conditions are more prone to it.

Why is it called Charley’s horse?

There are many theories that go around this name and one of them is:

There was an old horse named Charley who used to drag equipment in White Stockings ballpark.

Many times the injured players compared their limping with the gait of Charley and the leg muscle injury is called Charley’s Horse.

Another theory goes like this…

In 1880s Jack Glasscock a baseball player adopted this term from his father who used to take care of an old horse called Charley.

When he used to see his son limping due to this kind of leg pain, he used to comment saying that he is walking like the old Charley horse.

There are still more theories associated with that…but this term is popularised by multiple publications in 1880s when they used to refer to something familiar to baseball players, who reportedly used it to describe certain muscle injuries or pain.

Two baseball players namely Jack Glasscock and Joe Quest are thought of as the originators of the phase.

What is the difference between Charley’s Horse and Cramps?

Charley Horse is actually another name for muscle cramps but they are often referred to as the cramps that occur in the legs.

So, there is no difference between cramps and Charley horse and they are muscle spasms or twitches. However, the degree of the spasm varies from person to person.

Also, there are other health conditions that can be confused with Chaley horse and it is very important to recognize them…Your health care professional will be able to guide you with that.

Similar conditions that can be confused with Charley’s horse are:

  • Myalgia – It is a sort of pain that occurs in the tendons, fascia, ligaments, and soft tissues that connect muscles, bones, and organs.
  • Myotonia – It is referred to as the process of muscle tensing, which comprises both voluntary flexing and involuntary contraction. For example, you flex your feet towards your knees and suddenly your calf muscle gets locked.
  • Tetany – This is actually an imbalance that occurs due to a low level of calcium.
  • Dystonia – This is a disorder with movement in which the muscles contract voluntarily causing twisting and repetitive movements.

People who are more prone to Charley Horse

There are some people who are more at risk for Charley horse than others. These people are:

  • People who engage in strenuous exercises.
  • Pregnant women.
  • People who wear high heels.
  • People with health issues like nerve disorders, hypothyroidism, cirrhosis, etc.
  • Those who take certain types of medications.
  • People over 60 years.
  • Dehydration.
  • People with diabetes.

Reasons for getting Charley’s Horse while running

There are many reasons why you get Charley’s horse. However, you can pinpoint the causes that will lead to a Chaley horse.

This is mainly because a lot of things come into play when this kind of involuntary muscle twitch occurs.

Also, even if you are healthy, it can strike you for apparently no reason and apparently mostly at night.

However, there are certain things that can increase the probability of getting a Charley horse. They are…

Poor nutrition

These kinds of involuntary muscle spasms many times occur due to an imbalance of electrolytes. The electrolytes that are involved in this are potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium.

These are the key ingredients for muscle contraction. An imbalance in them will make you more prone to muscle spasms.

If you keep getting such cramps, check your electrolyte levels.

Workout intensity

If you are performing extra hard on your leg days or you log too many miles than usual, this can also lead to such cramps.

A common solution in such cases can be to drink a glass of water mixed with sugar and salt. This helps in restoring the electrolyte levels.

Lack of stretching

If you have stiffness or tightness in your muscles, your chances of getting a cramp are more. This is because you will be overloading an already troubled muscle group.

So, to avoid this, you will have to do stretching before your workouts and running. This will reduce the stiffness in the muscles and will help you to move easily.

Also, stretching properly will help you avoid such cramps.


Some medicines like diuretics or statins can cause muscle cramps. This is because, they have a tendency to cause an electrolyte imbalance in your body.

So, if you start experiencing such problems after taking these kinds of medications, then it could be due to the medicines. Let your doctor know if there is a recurrence.

Bad Circulation

If you keep getting cramps after your run or workout, it could be due to bad circulation also. Some of these issues can also cause foot pain that can feel like cramps.

How long does a Charley Horse last?

Charley horse can last from a few seconds to a whole day. However, most of the time it is actually a few seconds to a few minutes.

Anything above that which ranges from a few hours to a whole day is a severe case of Charley horse.

This is normal and the pain and muscle soreness will subside in a day or two…however, if it keeps repeating, you should consult a doctor.

Can I run after Charley Horse?

You can run after a Charley horse if the pain permits you. However, it is advisable to not run after a Charley horse.

This muscle spasm would have already added some stiffness to the muscle. You will be sore and adding a load of running will only increase your chances of getting sorer.

So, although you can run after this muscle spasm as this is not some sort of muscle tear or something, you probably should not run after a Charley horse.

How to relieve Charley Horse cramps?

One of the most effective and fastest ways to relieve Charley’s horse is quining. However, the medical community is split over this as many of them think that the efficacy is uncertain and so are the side effects…

BTW…did you know that quinine was used to treat malaria in the early days of the 1800s and was thought to be one of the most effective medicines for the same…

However, if you get a Charley horse, do the following to help you soothe it…

How to treat Charley’s horse in runners?

To soothe and relieve Charley’s horse, you need to do certain things that I’ll be describing below.

Firstly whenever you experience the start of Charley’s horse, just stop what you are doing.

Most of the time you just need to wait for a bit so that it can pass…This kind of discomfort goes away in a couple of minutes.

You can also try to gently massage the area. This generally relieves the cramps faster and will provide you with some comfort. However, be aware that you will feel the hard contracted muscle under your hands.

Also, stretching the area also helps. Since this type of muscle cramp is actually a type of muscle contraction, if you stretch it, it will improve the condition.

However, don’t apply too much force as it will be detrimental to you…instead, stretch the area gently until the cramp releases.

Here are some useful stretches that can help you to relieve this kind of muscle spasm…

Best stretches for calves

Standing Calf Streches

Foam Rolling Calf Stretch

Instead of foam rolling, you can also do towel stretch.

Also, don’t go overboard with the stretching. Do these exercises as gently as possible. Putting more strain on an already painful area will only aggravate your problem.

Along with the stretching, you should also do a cold compress twice daily. This will improve the blood circulation in that sore area and will help the muscle relax and will help you to relieve a Charley horse fast.

Use the R.I.C.E treatment – rest, ice, compressing, and elevating. You should feel some relief in a day or two.

How To Prevent Charley Horse While Running?

The best ways to prevent Charley horse while running is to do proper strength training, stretching, drinking plenty of fluids, and focus on diet.

When you get a Charley horse, you will be in so much pain and you will be hobbling for days together. At that time you may have to avoid running and training. So, it is better to take precautions so that you can avoid a Charley horse.

Here is what you should focus on…

Strength training

If you have strong muscles, you will be able to resist cramping over time. For that, you will have to do targeted workouts for your legs.

If you are wondering this is why your leg days matter…

So, what areas should you focus on?

You should primarily focus on your calf muscles and hamstrings. Also, strengthening your glutes and the adjacent muscles will help you put a lesser load on these muscles.

These guides will help you to strengthen each of the muscle groups and will also help you improve their mobility and flexibility.

Proper warm-up

If you do not warm up properly, your muscles are likely to spasm when you are running or exercising.

This is why the warm-up is so important before you start exercising. It will banish the stiffness of the muscles and will help you to avoid such spasms.

Drink plenty of fluids

The rule of thumb is, to drink 8-12 glasses of water every day. However, if you tend to sweat a lot…which you will if you are a runner, then you will be losing a lot of electrolytes from your body.

You need to make up for that, using an electrolyte drink or a mixture of sugar and salt in water…

This will help you to avoid cramps to some extent…


Not only the imbalance in electrolytes but also an imbalance in other nutrients can add to the chance of a cramp occurrence.

Use a variety of vegetables and leafy greens in your food. And also add a dose of electrolytes to your diet.

Another thing you should focus on is adding food that is rich in potassium and magnesium. Here are some sources of the two:

For Magnesium

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Cashew
  • Soy milk
  • Edamame
  • Avocado
  • Yogurt

For Potassium

  • Resins, apricot dried
  • Beans and lentils
  • Sweet potato
  • Winter Squash
  • Spinach, Brocolli
  • Leafy greens
  • Avocado
  • Tomato
  • Oranges
  • Chicken
  • Salmon

Consult your physician

If you keep getting cramps, even after using the above methods, then it is time to consult your doctor.

They may recommend tests for you to find out any particular deficiency or heal issues that need attending.

Although in most cases, muscle cramps are not a serious issue, however, in some cases they can be a sign of some serious health issues like

  • Radiculopathy
  • Stenosis
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Infections
  • Thyroid disease

Also, there are some OTC or over-the-counter drugs available for preventing cramps. However, I’m not an expert in this field and is not a medical practitioner, so I’ll not be able to guide you with that.

Check with your consulting physician for the same.

charley horse running
Madhusree Basu

Madhusree Basu

Author, Admin

Blogger and a fitness enthusiast. She loves running and Yoga and everything in between. She started running to manage her weight and to eat to her heart’s content. A true foodie at heart she shares whatever knowledge she has gained throughout the years about weight management and fitness.