Charley Horse in Your Arm? How to Treat Muscle Cramps

“Ooh! I got a charley horse!” your buddy exclaims as he jumps out of the pool, holds onto his arm, and starts to flail it around.

With a laugh, you say, “You’re funny. You can’t get a charley horse in your arm! Those are only in your legs.”

Not so! They’re most common in your legs for sure, but you definitely can get a charley horse in your arm, hand, or anywhere on your whole body while you’re at it.

The muscle cramp sensation is usually the same no matter where it is, and luckily it’s only temporary.

But when you have it, you want it gone, and fast. So what do you do? And how do you stop it from happening?

Well, we have a few tricks up our sleeves, but first, let us fill you in on what it is.

What Causes Muscle Cramps in Your Arms?

Most muscle cramps are harmless. Some of the day-to-day causes of muscle cramps include:

  • Overuse of a muscle, such as in the case of running, playing sports, or swimming
  • Dehydration, which depresses blood volume and creates less blood flow
  • Muscle strain
  • Holding your arm or leg in the same position for too long, such as when driving, watching a movie, or flying in an airplane

In some cases, muscle cramps may be caused by underlying conditions. These include:

  • More serious inadequate blood supply, caused by narrowing of the arteries
  • Nerve compression
  • Vitamin deficiency or use of certain medications

Treating a Charley Horse in Your Arm or Leg

The first thing most people do after getting a charley horse is panic. That reaction is not their fault. It’s almost instinctive. Your arm or leg buckles up, causing the rest of your body to react accordingly. It can seriously be painful sometimes, and may even be dangerous if you’re driving, swimming, or operating machinery.

Self-care and awareness can help you avoid muscle cramps. Following are several muscle cramp prevention tips that we recommend to our patients:

  • Make sure you’re hydrated, and not only in the summer or when you’re exercising. A charley horse can kick in at any moment.
  • Gently stretch your arm muscles before participating in strenuous or repetitive activity. Stretching will stimulate blood flow, which can help prevent muscle cramps. (Some fitness trainers recommend that you warm up your muscles a bit before you stretch so as not to shock those muscles. Do what makes you feel comfortable, as long as you do it safely.) Remember to stretch after the activity as well.
  • Get the necessary vitamins into your body. Talk with Dr. Arora and your primary care provider to determine which nutrients you may be lacking.
  • Maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise routine.
  • To prevent nighttime muscle cramps, stretch before going to sleep and keep sheets and blankets loose around your legs if you’re concerned about leg cramps. If arm cramps are your primary concern, avoid sleeping on your hands or placing your arms over your head while you sleep.

Despite your best efforts, you may experience a charley horse in your arm or leg anyway, and your knee-jerk reaction is to stop it as soon as possible. If you do get a sudden charley horse, following are a few ways to treat it:

1. Gently stretch the muscle, but don’t over-exert yourself.

2. Gently massage the area.

3. If it’s a persistent muscle cramp, try applying a heating pad or warm towel.

4. For a toe or leg cramp, walk around carefully, but avoid straining the muscle or your other leg.

If you have muscle cramps in your hands or arms often and can’t relieve them through these remedies and prevention tips, make an appointment to see our hand doctor in Howell, Warren, Macomb Township, or West Bloomfield.