Why is a Leg Cramp Called a Charlie Horse

Why is a Leg Cramp Called a “Charlie Horse”?

A lot of people have already experienced having a “charlie horse” or a leg cramp.  They may know how much it hurts, what to do to treat it, and causes of a charlie horse, but only a few really know why a leg cramp is called a charlie horse.

A Charlie horse is a popular term used in North America to refer to a painful bruise of the quadriceps of the lateral or anterior thigh, which could result in many weeks of disability and pain, and even muscular hematoma. The term Charlie horse could also be used to describe common foot or leg cramping. In the UK and other Commonwealth countries, it may also be referred to as a dead leg, while in Australia, it’s called a “corkie.”

Oftentimes a charlie horse occurs in sports, such as when an athlete is hit by an opponent’s knee, in a manner that is similar to the kick of a horse.  Such is the reason why it is called a charlie horse.

Because the term “Charlie horse” is a weird name to describe a leg cramp, many people can’t help but wonder about how the statement came to be.
There are many theories as to why a leg cramp is now called a Charlie horse.

The 1880s is said to be the year where the term was firs recorded.  A famous pitcher, Charlie Radbourn, who was also nicknamed as “Old Hoss”, is believed to have suffered from cramps.  Thus, the American baseball slang “Charlie Horse” came to describe leg cramps.

There are some people that believe a lame horse named Charley used to work at the Chicago White Sox’s ballpark, which is Comiskey Park, in the 1890s.  During those times, a retired and old horse was dubbed as Charlie.

Other stories tell that in the 17th century, policemen in England were said to be called Charleys, and the term was adapted by the Americans.  Because the police were required to do a serious amount of walking as part of their duty, Charleys or the policemen often suffered from aching legs.

These are just some theories as to why a leg cramp is called a Charlie horse.  No one can really tell the precise origin of the term, and it remains to be a fun trivia question that interests a lot of people.

So the next time someone ever asks you about why a leg cramp is called a Charlie horse, at least you’ll have some theories to share.