Orthopaedic and Spine Center logo
Home > Resource Center > Lower Leg Pain > Leg Cramps, Better Known as Charley Horses

Leg Cramps, Better Known as Charley Horses

The feeling of a charley horse creeping up in a foot or leg is something you aren’t likely to forget. Whether you’re out for a run, watching a movie, or deep in sleep, a charley horse can attack at any time. This leg cramp can be unbearably painful and hard to relieve. These cramps, caused by muscle spasms, can last for several seconds or longer.

There a number of reasons that a muscle spasm can occur:

  • Muscle injury
  • Insufficient blood flow to the muscle
  • Overuse of muscle
  • Not stretching before physical activity
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of minerals in the body (calcium, potassium)
  • Exposure to extreme hot or cold conditions
  • Nerve compression

An occasional leg cramp does not require a medical diagnosis, unless they are reoccurring very frequently. An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan can sometimes help determine the cause of leg cramps, if they are severe.

-Stretching and self-massage
-Using an icepack will help numb the pain and relieve any muscle soreness
-Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, such as Aleve, for pain
-Anti-spasmodic medication can be prescribed to relax the muscles.

If cramps are caused by nerve compression, there are surgical options to enlarge the space around the nerve, if spasms are extreme.


-Warm up and stretch before and after exercise
-When exercising, alternate muscle groups that are worked
-Drink water or sports drinks that contain electrolytes while exercising

A charley horse is usually harmless, and most of the time there is nothing wrong within the body. However, if you are experiencing frequent, painful leg cramps, please give us a call at 757.596.1900 to schedule an appointment. One of our experienced Orthopaedic physicians can check you out and find any problems that may exist.

Make An Appointment

Schedule an appointment with our highly skilled, multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic and spine specialists.