Common causes for charley horses include overuse of a single muscle, insufficient blood flow to the muscle, nerve compression and inadequate stretching prior to exercise, according to Healthline. Other reasons include muscle injuries, mineral depletion and dehydration.
Charley horses are sudden, painful muscle cramps that usually occur in the calves, hands, arms, thighs, abdomen and rib cage. They usually happen just before falling asleep but can happen anytime, notes WebMD. Certain drugs such as diuretics that remove fluid from the body and deplete magnesium and potassium can cause charley horses. Statins (used to reduce cholesterol), blood pressure medications and drugs that treat osteoporosis and asthma list muscle cramps as an adverse effect. Other possible causes include a pinched nerve in the back, a spinal cord injury or pregnancy, which decreases calcium stores.
Certain populations at a higher risk for charley horses include infants, elderly, obese individuals and athletes. Persistent charley horses require a physician’s diagnosis, advises Healthline. Treatment can involve massage, stretching, ice packs or heat pads and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Antispasmodics along with physical therapy may be used if the condition recurs and does not respond to the other treatments. Doctors can recommend surgery if the charley horse is caused by an entrapped nerve.