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The history & mystery of “Charley Horse” Examined
By: Don Penven, CEO
Most of us, especially the “Seasoned Citizens” in the USA, have heard the term, Charley (often misspelled Charlie) Horse , and we have experienced the Charley Horse attack. Charley Horse is a term with mysterious beginnings as well as mysterious causes.
Exhaustive research indicates that the term is very much limited to use in North America and does not show up in languages other than English.
Charley Horse Defined: Medical websites define a Charley Horse as a muscle spasm or severe leg pain. In my case, a Charley Horse arrives in the middle of the night. Often, sometime around 2:00 a.m., I am awakened by a stiffness in the calf of one leg or the other. The pain seems to spread from my knee to my foot. And it is accompanied by a “hardening of the entire calf muscle” on the back of my leg. The pain is excruciating—and my leg is drawn into a folded position. This stabbing pain will often bring tears to my eyes.
I am unable to walk due to my leg being drawn up so I try rubbing the muscle, which feels like a rock, but this seems to just increase the pain.
A Charley Horse, in my case, can last for 5 to 10 minutes. And then… it just goes away and the muscle relaxes. Even with the muscle knot gone away, the calf is still painful to the touch.
As I mentioned, the Charley Horse is pretty much a mystery since little is known about the origin of the term and what causes the leg pain. I have spent many hours in Internet research and I will share what I’ve learned with you—my reader.
Popular folklore tells us that the term drew its meaning from an old newspaper article. As one researcher tells it: “All the early citations of the phrase relate to baseball in some way or another. The earliest… is from The Fort Wayne Gazette, July 1887: ‘Whatever ails a player this year, they call it ‘Charley horse’. ‘Tom and Jerry horse’ would fit many cases.”
Yet another citation says that baseball pitcher, Charley Radbourne was nicknamed Old Hoss. He got a leg cramp during a baseball game in the 1880s. This at least seems plausible… and has no obvious fault to rule it out, but that’s not enough to prove the origin of the term.
And one final theory states, “A lame horse named Charley pulled the turf roller on the Chicago White Sox ballpark in the 1890s. That’s the most commonly repeated version but appears to be false as we can put the phrase before the horse, so to speak.”
The following articles will discuss the “cause and effect” of leg cramps or the infamous… Charley Horse.
Learn About Possible causes of a Charley Horse.