How to Deal With Muscle Cramps in Soccer

Dec 17, 2021

Image Source: Pixabay

Muscle cramps in soccer are a real pain in the...well, wherever they occur. They tend to strike suddenly, and as harmless as they can be, they can leave you limping towards the bench. Chances are you’ve probably had a muscle cramp or two, or you will have it someday in your soccer career. 

But the truth about muscle cramps though, is they’re easily preventable. Small changes in habits will do the trick. This post will take a look at what you can do to reduce the occurrence of muscle cramps while playing soccer. 

Muscle Cramps Descriptions

A muscle cramp is essentially a sudden and involuntary contraction of single or multiple muscles. Think of the infamous charley horse: you know how everything is cool and calm and then all of a sudden you get that paralyzing knot in your calf or hamstring?

That’s a muscle cramp.

Muscle cramps are usually harmless (sometimes they’re serious though), but they are a nuisance and signal that you’re doing something wrong. 

For soccer players, there are some “usual suspects”, conditions or habits that can lead to muscle cramps. They’re easy to avoid and fix, but they’re all too often overlooked. 

Causes of Muscle Cramps 

  • Blow to the muscle - A knee or kick to the leg (or another body part) is a very common reason for muscle cramps. This often occurs by accident when players try to get the ball from an opponent but miss. 
  • Over-stretching/Over-exertion - Stretching and movement is a good thing, but a muscle that moves beyond its limit will hurt. A cramp can also occur when too much force is applied to the muscle, especially when that muscle isn’t properly warmed up or conditioned. 
  • Nutritional deficiency - Your body needs a sufficient supply of nutrients to support the running, jumping, and kicking you do - a nutrient deficiency makes muscles weaker and more prone to cramping. Common culprits include low sodium or potassium. 
  • Wearing protective gear too tightly - Soccer protective gear is great, but wearing it too tight can restrict blood flow to the affected muscle. This prevents waste from being cleared out of the muscle which can then lead to cramping. 
  • Rapid change in temperature - A sudden change in temperature can lead to muscle cramping, especially if the muscle wasn’t prepared for these sudden changes. A good example of this with temperature drops and playing cold weather without proper warmups. 

      Managing muscle cramps is fairly simple. You can manage it with the standard Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (P.R.I.C.E.), protocol. Muscle cramps usually resolve once these at-home treatments are applied. Of course, more severe muscle cramps will probably need a doctor’s examination.  

      Preventing Muscle Cramps 

      The reality with muscle cramps though is this: they’re easily preventable and it’s better to prevent them than to treat them. If you look at the causes mentioned earlier, you’ll notice that many of them involve factors that you can counteract with smart decision-making. Remember: muscle cramps don’t come out of nowhere - there’s likely something that you did or didn’t do, and that is the cause of them.

      Wear the right protective gear

      Remember how we mentioned that a blow to the muscle can cause it to cramp? Well, whether it’s a knee or kick to the leg or arms, player-to-player contact can result in muscle cramping. You can’t avoid contact sometimes, but you can wear soccer protective gear to cushion the blows, which, in turn, means a lower likelihood of cramping. 

      For example, our leg guards, padded pants, and padded jerseys all feature impact protection technology that reduces impact forces by up to 90%. Therefore, if you do sustain a blow, this soccer protective gear will blunt it so that your muscles remain unharmed. 

      Now with that said, we also advise you to choose your sizes properly so that you’re not wearing items that are too tight. Soccer protective gear that’s too tight can CAUSE muscle cramps. To avoid this, wear your gear in a size that’s suitable for you. 

      Hydrate/Eat Well 

      You are what you eat and what you eat affects how you play. Don’t underestimate this. Failing to consume enough nutrients - vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbs, fats - will negatively impact your performance on the field. 

      With that said, we want to focus on two particular substances: sodium and potassium. When either (or both) of these elements are low, the chances of you getting muscle cramps goes up. 

      So the fix here is simple - eat more sodium and potassium, especially on game days. Getting more sodium is as simple as adding a little extra salt to your food. Getting more potassium takes a little more effort but it’s nonetheless widely abundant in foods such as bananas, avocados, beans, potatoes, dried fruits, and spinach.  

      And of course, don’t forget to hydrate either. Dehydration leads to lower blood volume and blood flow, which leads to muscle cramps, so it’s crucial to drink plenty of water as well. 

      Warm-Up Appropriately 

      Last but not least, players need to warm up thoroughly and appropriately. Your muscles are only as effective as the conditioning they’re subject to. In other words, if they aren’t ready for certain movements (or conditions), then you may get muscle cramps when you overexert yourself. 

      Image Source: Jubilee Sports Physio

      Fortunately, there are multiple ways to warm up before a game or practice. You can incorporate a combination of static/dynamic stretching and running drills that can help “wake up” muscles. Also, using the FIFA 11+ neuromuscular drills is a great way to train the muscles and nervous system to perform more efficiently to not get injured. 

      And coaches should work with players to incorporate strength training, plyometrics, and other fitness programs outside of practices and games too. Conditioning outside of the pitch can also safeguard muscles from cramping.

      Out Muscle Muscle Cramps

      Muscle cramps don’t have to be a necessary evil in the game of soccer. By eating/hydrating right, wearing soccer protective gear, and warming up before games, you can prevent most (if not all) incidents of muscle cramps. If you do find that you’re getting muscle pains frequently, regardless of what precautions you take, you should get evaluated by a doctor. 

      It could be a sign of another underlying issue or injury. Nevertheless, with the right approach, you beat muscle cramps for good and enjoy pain-free times on the pitch. 

      Looking to avoid muscle cramps and injury? Browse through our selection of recovery tools to help you heal faster after games and practices!

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