ZocdocAnswersWhat is a charlie-horse?

Question

What is a charlie-horse?

I'm a 20 year old female college student that just recently started swimming to get in shape. However every time I go swimming after swimming about 800meters I get a really sharp pain in my foot, its the worst pain I've ever felt. Other swimmers tell me that its a charlie-horse, but I have no idea what that is to be honest. The first time I had it my foot was sore for a few days after the occurrence. When is was sore I didn't go swimming and I want to get into the pool again without having to worry about my foot feeling like its going to explode in the middle of a lap.

Answer

There are many different causes of these types of pain, but luckily many of these are minor and not worrisome in a young women your age. That being said, there are a few causes that can be a sign of worsening disease. Therefore, if these symptoms persist, I would recommend that you talk to and see your doctor. A charlie-horse or charley horse refers to a muscle spasm or cramp. This most often refers to cramps of the hamstrings (back of the thigh) or calf (back of the lower leg). All muscles are innervated by nerves which tell the muscle when to contract and when to relax. A cramp occurs when either the nerve inappropriately tells the muscle to contract (spasming tightly) or there is direct irritation in the muscle that causes a spasm. The most common cause of spasms is over-activity. A muscle that suddenly starts working can become irritated and spasm due to an inappropriate use of energy. That is why stretching allows the muscles to "loosen up" and increase blood flow. It sounds like this may be a cause of your pain. I would recommend comprehensive stretching. There are other causes of pathologic spasms. These include medicines, electrolyte abnormalities, dehydration, blood clots and muscle inflammation. I would recommend aggressive electrolyte fluid (like gatorade) and stretching prior to swimming next. If your symptoms continue, see your doctor to rule out other causes.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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