Charley horse

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Charley horse is a North American term that is rarely seen in British English. We will examine the definition of charley horse, several theories as to its origin and some examples of its use in sentences.

A charley horse is a muscle cramp which usually occurs in the thigh or calf muscle of the leg. Note that the word charley in the idiom charley horse is not capitalized, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The plural form is charley horses. The term first arose in the 1880s, from the American sport of baseball. One story states that the term was first used to describe a lame horse named Charley that pulled the roller at the White Sox ballpark in Chicago. A second origin theory gives the credit to a baseball pitcher of the 1880s named Charley Radbourne, also known as Old Hoss, who suffered a muscle cramp during a baseball game. Neither story is provable, and the origin of the term charley horse is lost in the mists of time. Relief from a charley horse is usually found through stretching, massage or application of heat.


Senior Kourtney Urbanczyk, left the game with a charley horse but returned to complete a 10-point game. (The Buffalo News)

She says she’s in constant pain and describes it as like a charley horse that never goes away. (The Savannah Morning News)

Keen fell to the ground but said he believed he only had “a really bad charley horse,” the affidavit said. (The Columbian)

“The classic symptoms for DVT are pain in the back of the calf, like a charley horse that doesn’t go away,” Dr. Shivakumar illustrates. (The Chronicle Herald)