Charley horse

Charley horse
Charley horse
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 M62.8, R25.2
ICD-9 728.85

A charley horse is a popular North American colloquial term for painful spasms or cramps in the leg muscles, typically lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours. Also known as a "Tommy Horse". It can also refer to a bruising of the quadriceps muscle of the anterior or lateral thigh, or contusion of the femur, that commonly results in a hematoma and sometimes several weeks of pain and disability. Such an injury is known in the United Kingdom, United States, and many Commonwealth countries as a dead leg, granddaddy, or chopper.[1][2] In Australia it is also known as a corked thigh or "corky."[3] It often occurs in sports when an athlete is struck by an opponent's knee, in a manner like the kick of a horse, perhaps the reason for its name. The condition is common among hockey players.

Another nuance for the term "charley horse" is used to describe simple painful muscle cramps in the leg or foot, especially those that follow strenuous exercise.[4][5] These muscle cramps can have many possible causes including hormonal imbalances, dehydration, low levels of potassium or calcium in the blood, side effects of medication, or, more seriously, diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and neuropathy.[6] They are also a common complaint during pregnancy or for the elderly.[7]



Relief is usually given by either massaging or stretching the foot, ankle or knee in the opposite direction of the spasm.


The term may date back to American slang of the 1880s, possibly from the pitcher Charlie "Old Hoss" Radbourn who is said to have suffered from cramps.[8] Another story mentions a horse named Charley that used to work at Comiskey Park, the Chicago White Sox's baseball stadium. In those days, an old, retired horse was often called "Charlie."

In the German-speaking world, it is commonly known as a Pferdekuss (horse's kiss), while in Norway it is referred to as a lårhøne (thigh hen), in the Netherlands as an ijsbeen (ice leg) and in France as a béquille (crutch). In Portugal, it is known as a paralítica, roughly translated to "paralyzer". In Japan it is known as komuragaeri (こむら返り?), which is literally "cramp in the calf". In northeastern Italy, it is commonly called a lopez, while in the northwest it is called vecchia (old woman) or dura ("hard one" or "tough one"); in the south of the country, instead, it is called morso di ciuccio (donkey bite). In some areas of central Italy, it is called opossum. In Israel it is called Regel Etz which means wooden leg. It is called chaca (rat) in the Chamorro language of Guam and the Mariana Islands.[citation needed].


  1. ^ What is a dead leg?,
  2. ^ Cowboys five years running 2002, LA Daily News (archived article)
  3. ^ Corked thigh,
  4. ^ Dorland's Medical Dictionary entry for "charley horse"
  5. ^ World Wide Words: Charley Horse.
  6. ^ Miller TM, Layzer RB (2005). "Muscle cramps". Muscle Nerve 32 (4): 431–42. doi:10.1002/mus.20341. PMID 15902691. 
  7. ^ Young GL, Jewell D (2002). Henderson, Sonja. ed. "Interventions for leg cramps in pregnancy". Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (1): CD000121. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000121. PMID 11869565. 
  8. ^ "Charley horse definition". MedicineNet. Retrieved 2007-09-10. 


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • charley horse — (USA) A charley horse is a stiff leg or a cramp, especially in the leg …   The small dictionary of idiomes

  • charley horse — baseball players slang, 1888, origin obscure, probably from somebody s long forgotten lame racehorse …   Etymology dictionary

  • charley horse — ☆ charley horse [chär′lē ] n. [ballplayers slang, c. 1888; prob. with reference to a lame racehorse] Informal a cramp or soreness in a muscle, specif. of the thigh, caused by strain …   English World dictionary

  • charley horse — soreness in a muscle, cramp in a calf muscle, pull a muscle    Did you hurt your leg playing baseball? Yes, I slid into third base and now I have a charley horse …   English idioms

  • charley horse — /ˈtʃali hɔs/ (say chahlee haws) phrase get (or suffer) a charley horse, US Colloquial to experience stiffness or cramp in the leg, especially following exertion. {origin unknown} …   Australian English dictionary

  • charley-horse — noun a muscular cramp (especially in the thigh or calf) following vigorous exercise • Syn: ↑charley horse • Usage Domain: ↑colloquialism • Hypernyms: ↑spasm, ↑cramp, ↑muscle spasm …   Useful english dictionary

  • charley horse — char|ley horse [ˌtʃa:li ˈho:s US ˌtʃa:rli ˈho:rs] n [C, singular] AmE informal [Date: 1800 1900; Origin: Charley male name, from Charles] a pain in a large muscle, for example in your leg, caused by the muscle becoming tight = ↑cramp …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • charley horse — Localized pain or muscle stiffness following a contusion of a muscle. [slang] * * * char·ley horse chär lē .hȯrs n a muscular pain, cramping, or stiffness esp. of the quadriceps that results from a strain or bruise * * * char·ley horse (chahrґle …   Medical dictionary

  • charley horse — noun Etymology: from Charley, nickname for Charles Date: 1888 a muscular pain, cramping, or stiffness especially of the quadriceps that results from a strain or bruise …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • charley horse — char|ley horse [ tʃarli ,hɔrs ] noun singular AMERICAN INFORMAL a pain, especially in your leg or foot, caused by a muscle becoming tight or stiff …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

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