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Top Exercises for Relieving Charley Horse Cramps from a Physical Therapist

A Charley Horse is just a fancy term for a leg cramp but man are they painful. Most of the time, people affected with it will freeze and just hope that it passes quickly. But what do you do if the cramp doesn't stop and continues to linger? I'm going to walk you through what to do!

So you just got an intense leg cramp and you don’t know what to do. You’re frozen waiting for it to go away on its own but it’s taking SO LONG and it’s SO painful. Muscle cramps occur because there is a disruption between excitatory and inhibitory input to motor neurons in the spine. The excitatory information is too strong and overwhelms the inhibitory input, leading to uncontrolled muscle contraction.

Many things can cause cramps:

  1. Sweating from sports, exercise or physical activity can result in disturbances in water and electrolyte balance

  2. Muscle tension imbalance

  3. Poor blood flow or a restricted blood supply

  4. Nerve involvement

  5. Abnormal spinal reflex activity

So here’s what to do when you’re in that acute stage:

  1. Nerve flossing Nerve flossing works to remove adhesions between the nerves and connective tissues of the legs to get you mobile again. You don't want to stay frozen in pain.

  2. Heel digs Heel digs are the first step in learning proper hamstring activation. This and hip holds (the next exercise in the progression) are all about rebalancing the muscle use in the leg.

  3. Hip holds Similar to the heel digs, we want to reduce the amount of quad activation and have those hamstrings take over instead

  4. Butts Up Butts Up is actually very similar to nerve flossing but in many ways is combines that and getting your muscles loose and flexible again.

I hope this video helped you and now you have some tools to get you out of the acute stage of a cramp. But always remember to consult your doctor or physical therapist before you try to treat yourself. If you find you cramp pretty consistently, you may want to consult a doctor to understand what's causing the chronic cramping.

Remember, we heal smarter, not harder,

Dr. Preston Nguyen


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