charley horse


charley horse


  • a cramp or stiffness in the leg or arm.
  • a painful involuntary muscle cramp particularly in the arm or leg.
  • describes a leg cramp or stiffness in the muscles, particularly in the thigh, arm or leg.

When someone experiences a charley horse, they feel a sudden, sharp pain accompanied by muscle contractions, with intensity and duration varying from one another. In medical science, it is defined as muscle spasm—a sudden, involuntary movement in one or more muscles.

Example Sentences

  1. We had to stop midway and call for help because of a charley horse in my foot.
  2. Your favorite player is not playing in the final because he has a charley horse.
  3. After a long drive, I had a charley horse, and I was limping out of the vehicle.


The phrase “charley horse” originated in the sport of baseball in the United States. It was first used in the late 19th (dating back to the 1880s) or early 20th century.

Jack Glasscock and Joe Quest are credited as the originators (baseball players). However, several theories have been proposed for its origin.

One theory suggests “charley horse” was derived from the name of a lame racehorse forgotten over time.

Another theory links it to the pitcher Charley “Old Hoss” Radbourn, known to suffer from cramps. It is believed that his name might have been associated with the condition.

Who coined the term or the first book to publish the idiom remains unknown. The etymology of the phrase remains somewhat obscure, with no definitive source pinpointed. In fact, Glasscock’s sources suggest he adopted the term from his father, and a famous publication of the phrase appeared in July 1886.

Charley horse is mainly used in American English, unlike in other English-speaking countries. It’s believed the phrase was popularized by baseball players, who used it to describe muscle injuries or pains during games. The exact origin remains elusive, with various theories proposing different explanations. Still, it has become a widely recognized idiomatic expression in North America.

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