We’ve all felt it – that teeth-grinding muscle spasm in the arch of the foot, the back of the calf, or the back of the thigh (hamstrings). When do you know if that Charlie Horse is more than a muscle cramp? What if you get them often? How can you tell the difference between a Charlie Horse and a possible blot clot?
Charlie Horse vs. Blood Clot
A Charlie Horse is a nickname for a muscle spasm or cramp. This cramping or contraction of a muscle or group of muscles can be incredibly painful. Depending on the duration of a Charlie Horse, pain can be quite severe and soreness may exists for hours or even up to a day afterward.
A blood clot is known as a thrombus. Blood clots usually form over an injury to a blood vessel. Any time a blood vessel is injured, the body sends a signal to the brain. The brain then signals a rush of blood platelets and clotting factors to the area. Platelets are sticky blood cells that clump together to bind to the wall of the vessel to stop bleeding or leaking from a tear or injury to the wall of a blood vessel.
So which is it? A blood clot or a Charlie Horse?
Charlie Horses are caused by a number of situations, such as:
- A muscle injury
- Inadequate blood flow (blood transports oxygen – lack of blood flow decreases oxygen to the body’s cells in the affected area)
- Exercising in very hot or very cold weather
- Muscle strain or overuse
Several of the above situations that trigger a Charlie Horse may also increase risk of blood clot development, especially dehydration and inadequate blood flow, such as remaining sedentary for long periods of time. Dehydration causes blood to thicken and blood flow to decrease, causing it to grow sluggish as it moves through the blood vessels. When blood flow slows down, an increased risk of blood particles sticking together to form clots occurs.
Experiencing a Charlie Horse once in a while is not usually a cause for concern. In many cases, they respond almost immediately to massage, stretching, or ‘walking it off’. However, if you experience a Charlie Horse more than once a week, it’s recommended to schedule a visit with your physician to determine the underlying cause.