Most regular and adventure sports require strong calf contractions, which can often produce a very painful calf cramp or charley horse. If you are active, then you have probably experienced acute calf cramps at some point in life during your exercise workouts, yoga classes, adventure sports, or even in bed at night.
What exactly is a charley horse? According to Medline Plus, “A charley horse is the common name for a muscle spasm, especially in the leg. Muscle spasms can occur in any muscle in the body. When a muscle is in spasm, it contracts without your control and does not relax.” The causes of these muscle spasms often occur when a muscle is overused or injured. “Working out when you haven’t had enough fluids (you’re dehydrated) or when you have low levels of minerals such as potassium or calcium can also make you more likely to have muscle spasms. Some spasms occur because the nerve that connects to a muscle is irritated. The classic example is a herniated disk irritating spinal nerves as they exit the back, causing pain and spasm. When a muscle goes into spasm it feels very tight and is sometimes described as a knot.” The pain can be severe as we know from the charley horse.
Below I provide you with four easy stretches that will help you to relieve the pain from a charley horse. These can also help with foot cramps.
1. Heel Press
Stand on a step with your left foot totally supporting you and flat on top of the step while you slide the ball of your right foot to the edge of the step to let your heel dangle freely. Once in position, press your right heel down as far as you can. You will notice a deep stretch in your right calf muscle. Switch sides.
2. Wall Lunge
Place both hands on a wall. Step one foot back about two-and-a-half feet (the longer your stance the deeper the stretch). Bend your front knee (the more you bend it the deeper the stretch). Press the heel of your back foot towards or onto the ground if you can until you feel a total lengthening and widening of the back of your calf. Make sure to maintain a micro-bend in your back knee so that you avoid locking or hyper-extending your knee joint.
3. Downward-Facing Dog
Downward Dog alleviates calf cramps during yoga classes as well as during any other adventure or extreme sports including surfing, skating, skiing, running, rock climbing, cycling, walking, climbing the elliptical, swimming…etc.
How To Do Downward Dog:
- Set up and assume the pose correctly. Come onto your hands and knees. Separate your hands the same width as your shoulders and your knees hips distance apart. Slide your hands forward about two to three inches in front of your shoulders. Lift your chest slightly and allow your sit-bones to move up and back as you press into the palms of your hands, hinging your shoulders back towards your thighs while simultaneously straightening your legs.
Downward Dog Alignment Tips:
- Seal your knuckles to the ground with flat palms and make sure that your wrists are straight and parallel with each other.
- Adjust your feet so that they are hips distance apart and straight (toes neither turned in nor turned out).
- Lift your forearms away from your wrists.
- Firm your triceps into your arm bones.
- Externally rotate your shoulders (outer arm/triceps rolls in and under towards your head) and move them away from your ears.
- Lengthen the sides of your torso.
- Deepen your hip flexion.
- Firm your thigh muscles into your thigh bones (which you can achieve by lifting your knee caps up your legs).
- Release your heals towards the ground.
4. Three-Legged Downward Dog
How To Do Three-Legged Downward Dog:
You can achieve an even deeper calf stretch when you elevate one leg in a Downward Dog making it a Three-Legged Downward Dog pose. For Three-Legged Downward Dog, from Downward Dog, walk your feet towards your hands about two inches. Raise one leg to hip height if possible (or as high as you can) maintaining full extension of both legs (again if possible).
Alignment Points For 3-Legged Downward Dog:
- Keep your back hip closed so that all five toes reach towards the ground (your foot should be in a deep flex).
- Keep both legs straight if possible.
- Once the elevated leg is at its maximum height, see if you can completely drop the opposite heel towards the floor. Use a little strength to press it down!