Agony of a Middle of the Night Charley Horse: What are Muscle Spasms?
Nearly everyone at some point in their life has dealt with an agonizing Muscle Spasm in the middle of the night. Some may refer to it as a “Charley Horse.” Whether Charley was really a horse or not is probably the furthest thought on anyone’s mind when they are faced with one. What is certain is the pain or discomfort they can bring. Though these untimely and dreadful occurrences are referred to as Charley Horses they are ultimately a muscle spasm or also known as a muscle cramp.
These actions of our muscles are often sudden and involuntary meaning you cannot control your muscles. Think about a time when maybe you saw a section of one of your muscles begin to move on its own; perhaps your forearm, quadricep or thigh of your leg or maybe your eyelid, these movements can be referred to as twitches but are in fact a muscle spasm.
Spasms or twitches are most often not painful and typically only last a few seconds. Sometimes though these spasms can intensify and turn into a cramp aka the dreaded Charley Horse. Spasms can happen in any part of your body but typically will affect your abdomen, arms, feet, hands, and thighs. When you encounter a cramp, your muscle may feel hard to the touch and though normally passing within a couple minutes you could still experience some lingering pain or discomfort in that area.
There are a few common causes for spasms such as muscle fatigue, overuse, anxiety, and stress. Athletes may tend to encounter them more often when not properly warming up and anyone is more prone to them when not drinking enough water, especially in warmer conditions. People who are at a higher risk more than others include:
- individuals who are overweight/obese
- older adults
- pregnant Women
Those with certain underlying health conditions like a nerve disorder or a thyroid disorder or certain conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) tend to experience muscle spasms more frequently but there are varying symptoms associated with muscle spasms that could be a sign of a neurological health condition and can include:
- poor coordination
- “pins and needles”
- slow movements
- double vision
- sleeping problems
Spasms typically occur and pass with no medical treatment needed but if you may have any of the above symptoms you should consult with your family doctor.
Drinking plenty of water will help to thwart any dehydration related cramps but when experiencing a cramp some methods to help alleviate the symptoms include:
- pause or refrain from the activity that may have caused the cramp
- massage the cramping muscle and surrounding area
- gently stretch the muscle
- apply a heating pad to the affected area
Preventing muscle spasms from occurring in the future be sure to warm up properly before any physical activity, stretch daily (especially before bed if your prone to encounter one while sleeping), and stay hydrated by drinking enough water. Following these simple tips can help ensure “Charley” does not surprise you.