Charley horse

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"Dead leg" redirects here; in engineering, a "dead leg" is a redundant length of pipe through which flow is impossible because one end is sealed.
Charley horse
Classification and external resources
Specialty Sports medicine
ICD-10 M62.8, R25.2
ICD-9-CM 728.85
MedlinePlus 002066

Charley horse is a popular colloquial term in Canada and the United States for painful involuntary spasms or cramps in the leg muscles, typically lasting anywhere from a few seconds to about a day. It is less likely to refer to a bruise on an arm or leg and a bruising of the quadriceps muscle of the anterior or lateral thigh, or contusion of the femur, that commonly results in a haematoma and sometimes several weeks of pain and disability. In this latter sense, such an injury is known as dead leg.[1] In Australia it is also known as a corked thigh or corky.[2] It often occurs in contact sports, such as football when an athlete suffers a knee (blunt trauma) to the lateral quadriceps causing a haematoma or temporary paresis and antalgic gait as a result of pain.

The term can also be used to refer to cramps in the foot muscles. These muscle cramps can have many possible causes directly resulting from high or low pH or substrate concentrations in the blood, including hormonal imbalances, dehydration, low levels of magnesium, potassium or calcium (although the evidence has been mixed),[3][4][5] side effects of medication, or, more seriously, diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and neuropathy.[6] They are also a common complaint during pregnancy.[7]


Relief is usually given by either massaging or stretching the foot, ankle or knee in the opposite direction of the spasm.

Colloquial advice suggests that dietary deficiency of potassium, found richly in bananas and many vegetables, is a common cause of these spasms.[citation needed]

In other languages[edit]

Since this condition is frequent, and official medical term muscle cramps is used to describe cramps in general this term is often idiomatic, many languages have their own idioms to describe this condition, often beyond official medical terminology:

  • Afrikaans: Lammie ("lame leg")
  • Arabic: شد عضلي
  • Brazil: tostão, paulistinha or cãimbra (cramp).
  • Denmark: trælår ("wooden thigh"), both referring to how the thigh feels hard, almost like wood.
  • Estonia: puukas ("a woody").
  • Finland: puujalka ("wooden leg").
  • France: crampe (cramp) or if the muscle is torn – claquage.
  • Germany: Krampf ("cramp")
  • Guam and the Mariana Islands: chaca ("rat") in the Chamorro language.
  • India (Hindi): Baita.
  • India (Telugu): timmiri.
  • Israel: regel etz ("wooden leg").
  • Italy (southern): morso del ciuco ("donkey bite").
  • Italy (northwestern): vecchia ("old woman") or dura ("hard one" or "tough one").
  • Italy (central): water buffalo.
  • Japan: komuragaeri (こむら返り) ("calf cramp").
  • Malay: tarik mengkarung or simpul biawak ("lizard knot")
  • Nepal: "khutta baudinu".
  • Netherlands: ijsbeentje ("ice leg").
  • Norway: lårhøne ("thigh hen"), though in Norwegian only as a result of damage as in sports.
  • Philippines: "pulikat" (cramp) or "pulikatin" (to cramp) or "pinulikat" (to have cramped).
  • Portugal: paralítica (roughly "paralyzer") and cãimbra (cramp).
  • Romania: cârcel.
  • Russian: свело (e.g. "ногу свело", "руку свело") as translated as overstretched leg or overstretched hand
  • Spain, Colombia, Dominican Republic (Spanish): calambre.
  • Sweden: lårkaka ("a thigh cake"), likely referring to the diffuse area of bruising, and loss of muscle tone, or Sendrag ("tendon pull").
  • Turkey: "kramp girmek" (to cramp) or "et kesmek" ("turn into meat")
  • Ukraine: звело (e.g. "звело ногу", "звело руку") as translated as overstretched leg or overstretched hand


  1. ^ What is a dead leg?,
  2. ^ corked thigh,
  3. ^ Schwellnus MP, Nicol J, Laubscher R, Noakes TD (2004). "Serum electrolyte concentrations and hydration status are not associated with exercise associated muscle cramping (EAMC) in distance runners". Br J Sports Med. 38 (4): 488–492. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2003.007021. 
  4. ^ Sulzer NU, Schwellnus MP, Noakes TD (2005). "Serum electrolytes in Ironman triathletes with exercise-associated muscle cramping". Med Sci Sports Exerc. 37 (7): 1081–1085. doi:10.1249/ 
  5. ^ Allen RE, Kirby KA (2012). "Nocturnal Leg Cramps". American Family Physician. 86 (4): 350–355. 
  6. ^ Miller TM, Layzer RB (2005). "Muscle cramps". Muscle Nerve. 32 (4): 431–42. PMID 15902691. doi:10.1002/mus.20341. 
  7. ^ Young GL, Jewell D (2002). Henderson S, ed. "Interventions for leg cramps in pregnancy". Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (1): CD000121. PMID 11869565. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000121. 


External links[edit]