Charley Horse, You’re Cramping My Style

 Growing up I was an Irish step dancer who often experienced numb toes and horrible leg cramp wake up calls at 3 a.m. Unlike most dancing, Irish step dancing focuses solely (no pun intended) on the movement of the feet. It requires isolated control of the lower legs and is often compared to having a stick hidden in a rather unpleasant location. This isolation, combined with constantly keeping the feet turned out, often leaves dancers with odd-looking calf muscles that appear to wrap around the side of the leg. Without proper stretching, this strain on the muscle can result in cramps or “charley horses,” which is what I experienced quite often. I remember waking up to the sight of my toes curling down, making me look like I belonged in a horror film. I’d fling myself out of bed in an attempt to stretch the muscle, but I was almost always too late. My mother often suggested I eat a banana a day to help with the cramps, but I chose to endure the pain as a badge of honor. (I was a moron.)

Does anyone else experience sleep-awakening leg cramps?

Imagine the cramps this style of dancing produces.

Well, let me just answer that: yes, lots of people do. According to a CNN blog article by Dr. Lisa Shives, sleep awakening leg cramps is a form of sleep disorder and the list of possible causes is quite diverse.

Although I personally think this look gross, get your daily intake of potassium in any form possible.

  • Diabetes (side effect, not prognosis)
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Electrolyte imbalance (chug a Gatorade!)
  • Low potassium levels
  • Dehydration (which is probably the most common.)

If cramping is severe and the above don’t seem to be contributing factors, consult a physician to differentiate leg cramping from a more serious condition, such as akathisia (movement disorder characterized by a feeling of inner restlessness), myelopathy (degenerative condition that pinches the
spinal cord), peripheral neuropathy (damage to nerves of the peripheral nervous
system), or disorders of calcium imbalance.  

Although these seem like scary outcomes, Dr. Shives believes most cases are from a simple lack of strengthening and stretching of the calf and feet muscles.

To read more about sleep-related issues from Dr. Shives, visit

My Healthy Choice of the Day: Sticking to my cottage cheese-filled pita and grapefruit for lunch instead of grabbing a slice of pizza from the break room. Gotta love that willpower!