Charley Horse aka Night Time Cramps

In the last week I had what is known as a 'Charley Horse', not that I knew it was called that until I did some googling.  To most people it is a cramp, but a cramp like no other you will ever experience.

This week it was my fifth attack and I'd be lying if I said it is anything other than infrequent - the previous four attacks have been spaced over the last couple of years.  So what it is?

Well it only ever happens whilst asleep and for me only ever affects my calf.  I get about a second or two warning, almost like an earthquake rippling with increasing intensity.  Then the most intense pain you could describe that lasts about 10 seconds.  I have cracked my head open some years ago in an accident that required multiple stitches, yet this does not even compare.  The only way I can describe it, is that my leg is moving in one direction but the muscle is trying to pull it the opposite way.  There is only ever going to be one loser in that battle and it is my calf.

I scream in agony waking my poor wife in the process.  Now this is my fifth such attack she knows what is going on without even asking, not that I can tell her as I'm in too much pain.  All I can do is scream.  Ten seconds or so later, its over.

The after effects are strange, for the hours and days that follow my calf has clearly pulled and it feels like a severe tear.  It is even very sensitive to the touch and walking is not pain free.  The first time it happened, apart from being really disconcerting I gave it a few days rest.  These days as I've learnt more about these attacks I've actually realised that despite the discomfort I can still run and if anything it helps the recovery.  This is what is really odd about it, a pull that feels like a pull, yet doesn't stop me running on it (albeit only easy miles).

The strange thing is, other than these attacks I almost never suffer any form of 'normal' cramp.  Despite a fair few articles out there, there still seems to be little consensus as to the cause and even less documented by the athletes themselves, hence this blog post.

So what is my take on it?  It usually happens the night after a particularly hard session and most likely after a session when I've been quite dehydrated and perhaps been guilty of not being as fully re-hydrated as I should have been before going to bed.  That said, I do plenty of hard sessions and there have also been plenty of times when I've not been as hydrated as I should have been.  There have also been plenty of other occasions where I've been far more dehydrated, yet nothing happens.  Just to be clear I never go to bed knowingly dehydrated, sometimes you only realise during the night when waking up with a thirst.  It seems clear that other than hitting a requisite level of dehydration prior to bed, an attack of a Charley Horse seems to be little more than chance.  I have read that the other likely cause is a potassium deficiency and from reading up on it, this could also be a contributory factor so have occasionally started to take a potassium supplement.  I probably need to start taking them more regularly to determine whether it has any preventative effect. 

I've often joked that only I could come up with something along the lines of "Sorry I couldn't race today, I picked up a calf injury whilst asleep in bed".  Strange excuse, but who'd have thought, it could be a real reason...!


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