What is a Charlie Horse?

The term Charlie Horse refers to any cramp where a muscle is locked in a contracted position. This most commonly seems to happen in the leg, particularly the calf area. However, it is not limited to this area. It is also known to happen in the neck and chin, among other places.

What causes a Charlie Horse?

A charlie horse can be a symptom for many different things. It can be caused by deficiencies of such things as magnesium or potassium. You can even also get a charlie horse by being struck suddenly.

What can I do if I get a charlie horse?

One of the ways you can best get rid of the charlie horse, is to stretch the muscle that is cramping. If it is in your calf, try pointing your toes up as high as you can.

Frequent Cramping

Getting charlie horses is usually not a major problem, but in some cases can be a sign of serious medical issues. If you experience charlie horses regularly you should probably go to the doctor as soon as possible to just make sure you don't have any underlying issues.


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Actually, banana's are supposed to stop cramps...but for some odd reason, whenever i do happen to eat a banana (doesn't happen all that often) is when i get woken up in the middle of the night by charlie's horse. go figure

Posted by: Maynard Hales at November 5, 2003 09:36 PM

I have them too. In the calf since a small child from time time, usually when walking a county fair something like that or after running to catch a plane and it caused me stop exercising/walking like I should on a regular basis. A few yrs. ago I got one so bad in the top of my left foot/ankle that it still is not the same today. I've had endless xrays to no avail. Last night I had one in my upper right thigh that moved to the back of my knee then to my ankle. It is so frightening, I know.

My various doctors through the years have been '0' help. My fiancee is beside himself when it happens. It feels like my leg muscle may twist til it snaps and I will be left lame.

So far ripe banannas seem to work faster to loosen it then followed up with a strong pain pill (aleve/600mil. ibuprofen) dr. perscribed though; should help for the night & following days. I sure wish there was some info about this and if it can cause/or is causing permenant damage.

Posted by: linda at November 18, 2003 08:34 PM

I have charlie horses too. The things that people have told me take like bananas, drink milk and in the sun. The only problem is that I don't drink or eat anything with milk in it. The next problem is that my mother buys bananas but they always goes bad before anybody has a chance to eat them. Is there any more suggestions?

Posted by: Tasha at December 4, 2003 11:18 AM

My daughter gets charlie horses often. All of our family gets them now and then. We use ice packs on them and that does help. Also, if you put a bit of salt on your tongue it helps too.
You get the charlie horses, probably from lack of banana's (potassium) and calcium and exercising the muscles. To prevent them, drink your milk daily, have a banana daily and get your vitamin D (from milk/sun) and drink orange juice (potassium). Good luck with whatever helps as they hurt like heck and you can't even move. Many nights (sometimes twice a night), I hear one of my girls scream out in pain. I just get the ice packs and salt right away. Both my spouse and I have them occasionally. I had them very often when I was pregnant.

Posted by: Laure at December 5, 2003 12:16 PM

I certainly don't take pleasure in anothers pain, but it is good to here of others who are experiencing the same pain as I do.

This past few weeks I have experienced intense pain in the bottoms of my feet and the calfs of my legs, as my muscles tightened into what seemed to be a horrible knot. (This wakes me up in the middle of the night also!)

I have had a charlie horse in the past, but not as frequent as of late. I read in another site of an individual who stated, that thiers was caused by the use of Prednisone, which is prescribed for asthma.

I have been taking a new inhaler this past few weeks "Bricanyl" I am wondering if maybe this may be the source of my problem too??

Posted by: Kim S at December 20, 2003 04:33 PM

I feel the same as everybody else. Just a few minutes ago, I woke up and got the worst charlie horse in my entire life. My father had to squeeze my leg for the pain to go away. It was probably the 20th it has happened. Eating bananas doesn't really help me, but hey, that's just me. Go figure.

Posted by: Tony at February 10, 2004 06:34 PM

I have been getting them quite a bit lately. I am pregnant but I don't see what that has to do with it. I get mine so bad they just never seem to stop tightening and flexing. They'll last for 5-10 minutes. Usually I can catch them by pulling my toes toward my head but it never seems to work during pregnancy. Wish I could be sure it was a lack of calcium. I don't drink milk but I eat lots of dairy products. Plus, I eat Banana's! What the heck???

Posted by: Nathalie at February 18, 2004 07:28 AM

NO NO NO NO! it's not from a lack of exercise!!! it's when you're asking too much of your muscles, so they get crampled. see, muscles are constantly contracting and relaxing, and when you get a charlie horse it's because the muscle has gotten locked in the contracted position. i bet that when you get your cramps, you can't move a certain part - your toes, whatever. so's not from lack of exercise. i find that staying hydrated helps, as does putting a lot of weight on whatever's cramped - like when my friend gets them in her hand, she presses her hand against the wall until it stops.

Posted by: Caty at February 20, 2004 10:23 PM

Thats absolutely right Caty... studies have shown that because of the electrical current that flows through the negatively transposed ions in sheet rock (be it a sheetrocked wall she is pressing against) it can send a counterbalanced ionic charge through the phospholipidious bilayer in our skin cells, which then causes the muscles to again relax to the normal state.

Posted by: Maynard Hales at February 21, 2004 12:48 AM

Take magnesium pills and calcium pills to make up for the potassium you are not getting. It usually happens when you're lacking in vitamens. Also if you're working out be sure to stretch before and after you exercise. Stay hydrated also.

Posted by: Rachel at March 6, 2004 05:51 PM

I have been eating banana's all this week, now the charlie horses have started. I think I'm going to lay off the banana's for a while and see what happens.

Posted by: Jeanette at March 25, 2004 08:20 AM

Does anyone know what exactly is happening to the muscle when you get a charlie horse? It feels as if the muscle is dislocated.

Posted by: Angie at April 6, 2004 07:37 PM

I have been suffering of Charlie horses for about 6 months now, but last night was the worst. I had a cramp all over my body and I almost fainted. I slowly began rubbing my legs and then all of a sudden my stomach started cramping. What in the world is going on? This morning I woke up weak and hurting.

Posted by: Maria Rodriguez at April 11, 2004 06:23 AM

my husband and i both get them he is on his feet all day where he works so that might be why for him.i am over wieght not obeise but heavier than i shoul be so thats what i blame mine on.but they hurt so bad i cry,and after the worst is over it feels like my calf is so bruised it hurts all day.

Posted by: barb at April 13, 2004 09:34 AM

i always get a charlie horse whenever i have just woken up from a nap or in the middle of the night. It hurts so bad that i'm laying hopelessly and screaming and crying. it happens often.

Posted by: jessy at April 13, 2004 07:31 PM

Hey I also suffer from Charlie horses I got one last night and found my self yelling for help and I moved my toes and I massaged my calf and it seemed to go away. They usually last me 2-3 mins but that 2-3 mins is HELL! I just ate a banana that night and woke up with a Charlie Horse...what is going on?? Im in the sun enough and I excersise daily and I take all the vitamins mentioned...whats going on?

Posted by: adam at April 15, 2004 07:51 PM


Posted by: IRENE at April 16, 2004 12:02 PM


Posted by: IRENE at April 16, 2004 12:03 PM

I used to get charlie horses in my leg calf almost every night. My Doctor told me to flex my toes up as soon as I am waking up not down. I learned not to point and stretch my toes down at night but point them up toward my knees. I stopped having them every night and if I feel one coming on I stetch my toes up it usually makes it go away.

Posted by: Vivian at April 16, 2004 03:54 PM

Does anyone know if alcohol affects or causes charlie horses?

Posted by: AJ at April 30, 2004 12:33 PM

I generally wake up with a charlie horse 3X's a week in either my right or left calf(charlie isn't picky). I have never seen a physician or tried other remedies. The thing I find that works is to straighten your leg out all the way and SHAKE it as fast as you can. I believe this works the cramp loose. I am 18 now and have been having this problem for about 4 or 5 years, give or take one. This really works for me. Doen't sound so great, try it when good ol' charlie attacks. THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE. I also get them in the feet after swimming!!! Talk about pain, I have no treatment for this. GOOD LUCK & GOD BLESS

Posted by: Teresa at May 2, 2004 04:40 PM

I am in my third trimester of pregnancy and wake up with a charlie horse (in either calf) atleast three or four nights a week. I have heard so many different things: it's your muscle tearing, twisting, or contracting. All I know is that it is the worst pain I have ever experienced! The first night it happened my poor husband thought I in labor. The calcium theory would make sense...because the baby is using most of mine at the moment. Anyway, good luck to all and I feel your pain...literaly.

Posted by: kelly at May 6, 2004 11:39 PM

I get them all the time, only thing is, it has only happened in the last month or so. It is always in my calves, it varies as to which one. There is nothing that I have noticed that causes them for me in particular. If you know how to stop them, please help me, my legs are so sore all the time now!

Posted by: Kelsey at May 17, 2004 04:42 PM

I woke up in the middle of the night with charlie horses on both of my cafes. Does anyone know how to prevent this?

Posted by: Toni at May 19, 2004 06:56 AM

I just got a charlie horse at 4:45am today. It is the worst pain that i ever felt. i get them maybe twice or three times a year. But when it comes there is nothing like it. i'm a big tough guy and charlie horses reduce me to tears. If it wasn't for my wife to striaghten my leg and push forward my foot pointing up i would be still be in pain. But the worst thing about charlie horses is the fear of trying to go back to sleep knowing that it just might happen again. to know that other people get them on a regular bases makes me thank god for not go threw that extra pain.

Posted by: Ernie at May 21, 2004 05:05 AM

The advice about pointing your toes up towards your knee really helps me. I don't necessary buy the advice to exercise more but I think the potassium thing is something to think about.
The charlie horses are awful. When I feel one coming on, its like child birth, you feel it coming and there's not much you can about it.

Posted by: Charlene at May 21, 2004 11:44 AM

i'm 18 years old and practically can't remember not experiencing charlie horses in the middle of the night from time to time. I was just awaken by one about 30 minutes ago in my right calf muscle. It proceeded to move down into my right ankle, i'm a firm believer in bringing your toes up toward you but in this morning's case i couldn't move my toes. i slowly got out of bed and walked it off, got into the kitchen and got another in my left ankle. they are definetly the worst pain i've experienced..and believe it or not on a regular basic i eat bananas, drink milk daily, and exercise. In fact just yesterday i ate 2 bananas..who knows?!?

Posted by: jessica at May 24, 2004 07:59 AM

My father is a diaylsis pt and also has heart condition and is a diabetic. He has charlie horse during the day and in the middle of the night. It is at the point where it wakes my mother and I up almost every night. I don't know what to do for him could some one help. I also notice that it is usually after he has his diaylsis treatment. Today he had one on his way home from diaylsis and then he had one about ten mintues ago. If any one knows what to do when it comes to someone that can't have to much water and is a diaylsis, heart pt please let me know.

Posted by: katie at June 1, 2004 08:55 PM

ive been getting charlie horses alot before it started my leg(LEFT LEG) WOULD GIVE OUT AND I FELL A LOT NOW I GET CHARLIE HORSES WHAT IS GOING ON?

Posted by: linda knisley at June 6, 2004 02:58 PM

I too am a kidney dialysis patient. I especially get charlie horses in my legs worse in the summer. I'm sure it has to do with all the fluid I pull off everyday. (I'm on peritoneal dialysis). Anyway, I have read that something like Gatorade can be a big help, especially in the summer. I'm going to try that. Also, the bit about pointing your toes toward your knees is a good idea. If I can catch it early enough, I can stop it. I've also been told that you can get medication for this, but I don't know what it is. But I'm going to try the Gatorade first. Good luck, everyone.

Posted by: Marilyn at June 10, 2004 09:50 AM

...just read all the comments on "Charlie Horses".
I have had them in my calves now and then and I can treat the cramp or just wait it out pointing my toes upward like so many of you do. I admit it does hurt!! BUT.....
Lately, I have been getting them in my THIGHS...and DO THEY HURT - TO TEARS!!!
The very first one I experienced was in my left thigh a few years ago after getting up from the couch (in a laying position)watching TV. I started to walk and FROZE in my step!! It felt like I was having a heart attack as I started to perspire!!! It seemed to last quite a few seconds...but more like minutes!
It NEVER REPEATED repeated till just a few months ago, it woke me up from my sleep and in my right thigh...that awful 'cramping'. I thought it was from my (earlier that evening) sexual activity. I was bent over trying to walk and crying out..."it hurts...please Lord, make it go away". In it's own time it did go away...but it sure lasted a while!!!
Well I was wrong, it wasn't from my "activity" as it happened again in my right thigh this time and I hadn't had "that activity" for quite a while!! So I ruled out that out!!!
Tonight at my almost happened while I was sitting in her Wing style chair...I gave a moan as I felt a "pain" coming on. I quickly got up from the chair but it subsided!
I have talked to 2 of my Dr's over this but they don't advise me anything; I am in the dark over this.
Now I am afraid to do "anything" as I might jar it up again!! I am slightly overweight - I do move around and don't sit constantly, except for nightly TV watching. I'm not a very enthusiastic exercise person but I do go walking and shopping.
I am 5' tall....if that matters.
It could be circulation...I don't know. If I buy bananas, I eat one and the others sit and they eventually get ripe. I also have Potassium pills for using when I take a Lasex (water pill) when my ankles swell.
Once in a while my right side toe gets a cramp only when I stretch out my foot to drive (the accelerator). It sorta hurts and I usually have to wait it out. Also, when I go barefoot in my place, once in a while my right toe gets a cramp...have you ever watched your toe? It is "frozen"; you can't move it; and you have to wait it out like before.
If any of you have an answer for me why I get these cramps in my thighs...I'd like to know!!!!
I would appreciate any advice.....

Posted by: MARYJO at June 10, 2004 10:03 PM

My wife and I suffer from leg cramps. From what I have just read, the following seem to be reasons for them.
1. Lack of regular exercise, (irregular stressful exercise seems to be the worst -- watch it weekend athletes)
2. Lack of Potassium and Magnesium, (get the Magnesium from mineral water)
3. Pregnancy -- maybe baby is stealing minerals and complicates blood flow to muscles

One of the doctor sites said that the cramp/pain is a result of muscle cells tearing, (ouch!).

Posted by: Carl at June 12, 2004 09:35 PM

I rarely get charlie horses but have a elderly
lady frind who is 90. She gets them on a regular
basis and almost dies because of the pain. The
last one was in the groin area but many times under her knee. She claims rubbing "ICY HOT" on
the area helps. The one she had last lasted an
hour because she could not get to the kitchen to
get the ICY HOT. At her age I am afraid it may
just kill her some night. She lives alone.

Posted by: Sherry at June 16, 2004 08:27 PM

"The last one was in the groin area... She claims rubbing "ICY HOT" on the area helps."

Dang, grandma gettin' frisky eh? I don't think i'll be applying icy hot on my nether reigion anytime soon.

Posted by: Maynard Hales at June 20, 2004 02:03 PM

I would like too know is it normal for your calf to hurt for a few days after a bad chrlie horse?

Posted by: Rose at June 25, 2004 07:17 PM

You guys, back in the day my mother told me that when I am getting charley horses in my calves in the middle of the night, I need to stand up and PUT AS MUCH WEIGHT AS I CAN ON IT. I thought, "What?" but I did it, and she was right. When I'm getting one, I stand up and even have taken to JUMPING UP AND DOWN on it. It's just the exercising of the muscle... And what happens? I go back to sleep, and when morning comes, I feel as though I never had one! That whole thing Maynard Hales said about ionic charges in sheetrock transferring into our skin cells is a nice package of low-fat bologna; don't let it confuse you. It's the LARGE AMOUNT OF PRESSURE you are able to put on it, working the muscle, that does it. With muscles you can't stand on (like in the neck?) I wouldn't know what to do.

Posted by: Angela at June 26, 2004 09:13 AM

Angela, are you smoking crack?

Posted by: Maynard Hales at June 29, 2004 12:43 AM

hi, im 16 year old. for about the past 3 or 4 years iv been getting around 4-7 charlie horses (or well i now know what there called). but i would wake up at night and feel a sting in my calf muslce. i would bring my leg up and put my hand on it and i could feel the mucle getting tighter. it eventually would stop stinging after about 20 second ...but then hurt all day. is this a charlie horse. are they normal for ...younger ppl. i exersize every day in gym, drink ALLOT of ogange juice. what else can i do.

Posted by: Leeana H. at June 29, 2004 09:53 PM

Leeana, how bout you let Dr Phil have a look at them legs of yours.

Posted by: Dr Phil at June 30, 2004 02:19 AM

I have been getting charlie horses on the bottom of my right foot and my right calf. When I take vitamins I think it helps me to not get as many but my habits on taking them are not regular. I'm in pain sometimes for a week still recovering from one great episode. I Think more research needs to be done on this subject because everyone is doing the same thing with vitamins, exercise, and getting some sun. Will somebody tell us whats going on?

Posted by: kelly at July 1, 2004 09:24 AM

I've had problems with charlie horses in my calves, thighs, ankles and feet for years. For the last few years they seem to have subsided. However, I just got one of those foam mattress pads and put it on the bed last night. I woke up at 2:30 AM with cramping in my left lower leg in the front. I worked that out and went back to bed. I woke up t 4:00 AM to go the bathroom and on the way I got cramps in both feet and ankles. I worked those out and went back to bed. When I woke up at 7:00 AM I got a cramp in my right calf muscle. The only thing that changed was that dang mattress pad, so now I'm thinking hmmm... Years ago I was told of a pressure spot on your upper lip right under your nostrils that you can press with your fingers (hard) and hold which helps release the calf muscle when its cramping. I've used this method and it DOES seem to help. (The same pressure spot is used on horses when they get cramps in their leg muscles, so it sorta makes sense), and NO, I'm not making this up like Maynard does.

Posted by: Marty at July 3, 2004 10:07 AM

I had a nasty charlie horse this morning when I was asleep. It was the WORST I've ever had. It was in my left calf. I couldn't do much to get rid of it as it was happening. As a matter of fact as I thought it was stopping it ended up starting up all over again. I had to get up and attempt to walk around. My calf is so sore now as if someone kicked it as hard as they could.
I have a feeling my charlie horse has a bit to do with lack of vitamins but also dehydration. It's very important to drink up. I've not being watching how much fluids I've been taking in and I think it's too little. So along with all the other remedies(bananas, etc) make sure to drink plenty of water/fluids throughout the day. This may help or at least lessen the number of times one is stricken.

Posted by: Lisa at July 3, 2004 11:04 AM

I was just looking for more info on these leg cramps/charlie horses. I found that the medication prescribed is called Quinine sulfate and is taken at night. Vitamin E (400 IU) can help too. Hope this helps some!

Posted by: Lisa at July 3, 2004 11:14 AM

I am in Tai Kwon Do and I have experienced a charlie horse in my right calf shortly after an exhausting one hour training class. It didn't happen until I got home, where I walked up the stairs and received the cramp. My whole calf muscle was contracted and in the "lock" position for like 5 minutes. I put ice on for 10 minutes, took methocarbonal (muscle relaxant) and soaked myself in a bath with EPSOM salts. Worked great.

Calcium w/magnesium (2:1), Potassium, and Vitamin D are all important, but remember too much D is more harmful than good.

If you excercise, or partake in any sport activity, hydrate yourself adequately BEFORE DURING and AFTER to prevent muscle cramping. I feel that too sodium can cause cramps as well.

Posted by: TaiKwonDo at July 7, 2004 12:42 AM

Ow! I never get charlie horses, but today at 4:48 in the morning i got awoken by it. Ow!!! Its now gone 630 am and I am still sore and have not been able to get back to sleep. Oh dear, what am I to do???? From reading all of your posts, I tried to point my toes upwards (seems to help) and to put weight on it (couldnt do that, limping when I walk0. I drink lots of milk (hey, drink milk love life!) but guess I should up my banana intake and sunlight exposure. Off to fight the pain!

Posted by: Jenn at July 8, 2004 03:32 AM

Everybody seems to say there is no definite answer for what causes Charlie Horses. My question is why don't muscles like your tongue or heart ever cramp up like your legs, hands, toes, etc. ?

Obviously your heart doesn't do this, or you would die. I've never heard of a charlie horse in someone's tongue.

Is it possible a charlie horse is caused by an unconscious use of the muscle - which can be controlled? We don't control our hearts consciously in the same way as our other muscles, and we have incredible control over our tongues (since we use them to speak).

I know I've had severe cramps in my legs that I've made go away by consciously trying to relax the muscle ; whereas other times (when I first got them) it seemed like I have no control over it at all. I looked up this newsgroup because part of my hand flexed very hard while I was typing, it was the strangest muscle cramp I've ever had - and unlike most, it didn't hurt too much - but I was unable to relax my hand for a good minute or so.

I know if you press both your arms hard against the sides of a doorway as you stand in it, and hold them there for a couple minutes - when you stop doing it your arms appear to float - when in reality your muscles are just flexed and it doesn't feel like you're trying to lift your arms at all.

Maybe a charlie horse is the same thing? Only it happens spuradically. Just my two cents. I try to relax the muscle when I get the bastards, maybe practicing flexing different muscles in your body, one at a time, would help people that suffer from them regularly - as that is a trick for learning muscle control.


Posted by: Doug Styles at July 13, 2004 11:51 AM

Whoa... I HATE CHARLIE-HORSES !!! My wife has had to "save" me from the massive amount of pain that these things cause... I drink milk and eat bananas on occasion... I really think that these are going to cause me to pass out some night... I just had one last night, and I didn't want to go back to sleep. I have had them before and they are usually very, very painful. I found something that says that when a charlie-horse occurs it is actually TEARING the muscle !!! and that you will suffer internal bleeding around the muscle tissue for a few days. I think they can be controlled mentally. If I start thinking that the charlie-horse is coming back... IT COMES BACK!!! I HATE THEM !!! :(

Posted by: Shawn at July 17, 2004 08:01 AM

When I get one of those charlie horses in the middle of the night, I sprinkle a little salt in the palm of my hand and lick it off. IT REALLY WORKS! If it doesn't work, DO NOT repeat it or you will be taking in too much salt.

If you use this old fashioned remedy, be sure to get enough water every day.

Posted by: Ginger Dehlinger at July 21, 2004 05:28 PM

Whoa I woke up this morning because i had this terrible cramp in my foot i couldnt walk it out or anything so i came online at 3 in the morning looking for info and found this site . last week i woke up because i got another charlie horse in my foot and it went up my leg into my inner thigh , i thought for sure i was gonna die it lasted about 20 minutes i layed down trying to forget about the pain . finally when it was gone and i thought it was safe to go back to bed i got one on the other side in my thigh again . The pain was so bad i just layed there and cried . Not that was really going to help me out .. but it made me emotionally settle down a bit ... I wonder why I get these constantly . I have a friend that says its because your body is dehydrated and you have an electrolite imbalance in your muscles but im telln ya i drink plenty of water and take vitamins ... any help would be greatly appreciated .. .... thanks a bunch

Posted by: christina at July 22, 2004 05:09 AM

hey christina, are you cute?

Posted by: Maynard Hales at July 22, 2004 08:36 PM

I'm in shape and usually take vitamins. I have had a couple charlie horses lately and here is what I think. Ive been drinking alot lately, just Harley parties, Poker runs, and not eating properly.

For whatever reason there seems to be some commonalities with all the entries above. Salt, water/hydration, potassium, vitamines, minerals,stress, they all have to do with electrolite stability, all those finite things that a neuro surgeon might understand.

So here it is, we all have different systems, all in need of different levels of the basic raw materials, we need to find the proper levels of all these things and be real with ourselves.

Like me, I'm stressed out, party too much, drinking robs the body of minerals and vitamins,
and I need to exercise more.

Dont think about the problem think about a time in your life when this or any problem didnt exist and then ask what was in or what did you do or how did you feel. Dont focus on the problem focus on the best time of your life and re establish some of that essence we all lose from time to time.
whoa that deserves a beer....just kidding,...i think....;o)

Posted by: Johnny D at July 24, 2004 04:37 AM