Playing sports feels good and is great for the body, but there are times when your body rebels and cramps up. Charley horses, or charlie horses, often occur in the legs and are caused by many factors.
What is a Charley Horse?
A charley horse is the involuntary contraction of a muscle in the legs. On the thigh, the term "charley horse" refers to bruising or cramping on the quad muscles. Charley horses usually occur without warning when the afflicted muscle contracts and locks in place. A person suffering from a charley horse usually feels intense pain and loses voluntary control of the muscle for a few moments, until the muscle unlocks.
Charley horses are caused by dehydration, temperature changes, poor circulation, electrolyte imbalances, sitting or standing in the same position for a long period of time, or not stretching before physical activities. Other causes include pregnancy and medications, as well as kicks to the thigh area that lead to bruising.
Thigh charley horses are easily preventable. Before playing a sport, stretch your muscles and avoid carbonated drinks and coffee. Drink water or electrolyte-heavy drinks before physical activity. Also, during a pre-sports physical, check with your doctor for any health conditions that may cause poor circulation. Wear leg guards on your thighs to prevent injury during sports activities.
Stopping a Charley Horse
If you're suffering from a charley horse, don't panic. Massage the afflicted muscle using the heel of your hand, and stretch your leg out slowly to prevent an overextended muscle. If cramping continues for longer than 5 minutes, consult a physician immediately, as this may be a sign of a stroke or Restless Leg Syndrome.