“Charlie Horse” is a slang term, not a technical diagnosis. Most of us know what it means though. Whether a kick, knee, punch or elbow to a muscle, a Charlie Horse is a painful blunt force trauma that can be very intense at the time of injury. If severe enough, the pain can last a few days and involve bruising and swelling. When the area bruises, we would call it a contusion.
Typical advice for a muscle contusion or Charlie Horse is to ice the area. It may get inflamed as a response to the trauma and although this is a normal part of the healing process, it may delay return to normal function if it persists too long. Gentle stretching is advised, but this is definitely a situation where more isn`t better. Gentle, intermittent brief stretching can allow the muscle and joint to return to function sooner, but if you do too much it may hinder recovery. Bruising with a thigh contusion is common and often not a major concern in the long term. At the same time, the development of Myositis Ossificans is something to be aware of.
When a large muscle like the quadriceps is subjected to blunt trauma, a hematoma can form within the muscle. If this persists too long, Myositis Ossificans can develop. Myositis Ossificans means inflammation of the muscle tissue related to ossification (bone formation). In other words, if the swelling persists for too long and is too significant you can get a buildup of calcium in the muscle. This can be hastened for various reasons. Soft tissue therapy (massage therapy) or vigorous stretching and even the use of some modalities like ultrasound can make the situation worse.
The diagnosis of myositis ossificans can be fairly elusive. Most of these blunt force trauma injuries don`t progress to the point of calcium deposition. Sometimes a lump of calcium can be felt by the practitioner. X-rays can be helpful after a period of time as the calcium can be visible if significant enough.
Charlie horses, contusions, muscle strains and myositis ossificans can all be treated at Burlington Sports Therapy. Physiotherapy, athletic therapy and chiropractic are all suitable treatment options. If myositis ossificans is suspected the practitioner will not recommend the use of vigorous soft tissue therapy or therapeutic ultrasound. Gentle range of motion, acupuncture, advice, laser and home ice may be the most beneficial way to treat these injuries. If calcium deposition is not suspected, there are many more treatment options available to the patient. Unsure what to do? Give us a call…we can help you figure it out!