Charley Horse

Quick update: The musical washer does well, though the loads take twice as long. Drying time on heavy-duty stuff is less than half. All is well on the laundry front.

The otherwise quiet weekend of cleaning and reading the paper and trying to stay cool had one rude interruption. I woke up about 5 a.m. Saturday with a charley horse in my right calf. I guess I screamed because Larry came popping out of his study where he’d gone to watch the early news. I stretched and pulled and stretched and pulled. The serious hurt finally subsided but now I’ve got episodic pain. Sometimes when I get up it’s fine. After that’s happened a couple of times, I forget the injury and then the next time it hurts almost as much as the first time. Sometimes when I get up it’s just a little twinge.

The first thing I wanted after the serious pain subsided was to figure out why it happened. I get cramps in my toes if I’ve walked around all day in high heels. But I’d been in flip-flops, the same two pairs that I’ve worn all summer. Friday evening I had donned on a pair of sandals with an inch-high heel, the same pair I’ve been wearing on and off for the past three summers.

So I began searching the web for answers.

The National Institutes of Health focuses on cramps that occur during physical exercise and stress lack of hydration as a cause. I really don’t think that was the problem since it happened while I was asleep, and the only exercise I had done on Friday was walk up and down stairs (a lot of stairs) in the library at Wesleyan. But I’ve done that before, too, without any problem. Because of the hot weather, I’d been downing massive quantities of water all day for days. We’d had fish for dinner, and Mother always said that afterward we had to “make the fish swim,” so I’d had one huge glass of water right before bed.

About Orthopedics listed six possible causes of which five did not apply: muscle fatigue (I was asleep), heavy exercising (ditto), dehydration (see above), high weight (my BMI is 21.5), and medications (not taking any unless you include ridiculous amounts of vitamins). So that left electrolyte imbalances, which is a possibility since I’d been drinking so much water.

It was still bothering me enough Saturday evening that I gave up going to hear Guitar George Baker, which I really wanted to do. It’s now Monday and I’m still getting twinges and stabbing pain in no particular order.

So I tried to figure out what electrolyte or vitamin deficiency might be the culprit. Body and Fitness listed several possibilities.

I immediately eliminated calcium because I take what Larry refers to as several “horse pills” daily to ward off the osteoporosis that plagues the females in my mom’s family. The other one that I knew about was potassium. Since I don’t like bananas that was a possibility. I scarfed up some baingan bartha (Indian eggplant stew with tomatoes, both high in potassium).

The surprise supplement deficiency was Vitamin E, which is in the multi-vitamin. That one helps circulation, which could certainly be a problem since my feet and hands stay cold unless it’s 90 degrees outside, which of course it has been for the past year – maybe it’s only been a week but it feels like a year. I’m a little reluctant to take more Vitamin E and even the Web site says not to stay on large quantities for more than two weeks. Natural sources are probably best, so I’ll return to sprinkling wheat germ on my yogurt and eat more almond butter, which is ridiculously expensive but tastes better than peanut butter. The flavor is so intense that I find myself using a lot less of it.

Next I’ll try magnesium, though here again I’ve been eating fish and tofu, which are two good sources. Guess I’ll go buy some pumpkin seeds.

Also called the doctor who called back just as I was feeding the cat. Betsey prescribed quinine. “Yes, tonic water, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving you permission to add the gin,” she said. I assured her that was not a problem since I’ve never been able to get it past my nose. It smells like some old-fashioned hair tonic that my parents’ friends poured on their heads. Another possibility is Benadryl, which we keep around against the stings of the various bees, hornets, wasps and yellow jackets that lurk on the property.

Having now tasted the quinine, I’ll be happy to consider it medicine. I drank some about two hours ago, and it does seem to be working. At least I no longer feel as though someone is putting an ice pick in the back of my leg when I get up.

And finally, who was Charley? And why is his horse involved in this horribly painful muscle cramp? Well the WWW (that’s World Wide Words) traces the phrase back to about the 1880s and baseball. Beyond that, it may refer to a lame horse owned by the Chicago White Sox, or to a player on the team who suffered from the affliction. It’s etymology is as mysterious as its etiology.

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2 Responses to “Charley Horse”

  1. Betsy Says:

    Someone recommended to me to keep a box of Sweet Tarts next to the bed. Pop one or two the minute the cramping starts. Swears it works like a charm!

  2. lizr128 Says:

    That’s great! Actually, the quinine seems to be working – or the Benadryl – or propping my leg up for a good part of the day – or changing computer chairs …

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