How to Prevent a Charley Horse

It’s midnight, and you are woken up from a dead sleep by a stabbing pain in your hamstring. The feeling has happened to all of us: It’s a charley horse. Everyone gets them, but how do you avoid them? And what really causes them in the first place?

According to Scott Garrison, M.D., Ph.D., director of the department of family medicine at the University of Alberta, in an interview with Men’s Health, “Charley horses develop when the nerves that carry signals to your muscles fire off too many messages at once. This causes your muscles to contract in an uncomfortable way.”

Muscles contracting can occur from various things ranging in severity from dehydration to over use of muscles through vigorous exercise.

Matthew Hyland, president of the New York Physical Therapy Association and co-owner of Rye Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation told Everyday Health: Cramps often can result from anything from exercise to keeping your leg in an awkward position for too long.

So, if you are working out and experience a cramp, or are woken up in the middle of the night from a not so friendly charley horse, you should know that you are not alone. According to Martin P. Schwellnus in an article in The New York Times, “Cramps afflict 39 percent of marathon runners, 79 percent of triathletes, and 60 percent of cyclists at one time or another.”

There are a few things that you can do in order to prevent them. Here are a few ways to prevent cramps before they even start.

1. Stay hydrated

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According to Everyday Health, you can prevent or alleviate muscle cramps in your legs by making simple lifestyle changes. Drinking plenty of water is essential, since cramps are often caused by dehydration. A healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables can also help to decrease the frequency of leg cramps.

2. Stretch before and after you exercise

exercise, stretching

Source: iStock

Stretching is a great way to boost your workout and gain the most potential. According to Men’s Fitness, if we add dynamic and static stretching throughout our workout, we can really get the most out of our sets and reps and stay injury free.

3. Take vitamins and minerals

Potassium and magnesium are also great ways to avoid cramps. Eating a banana before working out can help, and according to Everyday Health, there is a chance that vitamin B supplements can also be beneficial.

4. Avoid exercise in extreme weather

Extreme weather can cause your muscles to contract or constrict. The key to exercising in the extreme cold or heat is being properly equipped. If you are planning on working out in the summer, try an early workout or a late night workout to avoid the hottest parts of the day. If you can’t avoid the heat be sure to hydrate before, during, and after your workout. If you are working out during the cold, make sure that you warm up correctly and keep your muscles warm to prevent them from tightening during the workout. 

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