Soccer players put in hours of work on and off the pitch to be the best and help their teams win trophies. However, all this hard work often comes at a cost, cramps.
Cramp is simply the involuntary muscle contraction. Soccer players mostly experience cramping of their calf muscles—which is their most frequently used muscle. However, soccer players are no stranger to stomach cramps too.
Regardless of the location of the muscle that experienced the cramping, it is usually painful and can lead to the untimely withdrawal of the player from the game.
During the Euro 2020 game between England and Germany, Harry Kane scored England’s second, and Declan Rice was hit with cramp missiles while trying to celebrate with his teammates. Rice was later stretched out and substituted.
Cramp is usually not life-threatening. However, it can hit a dent in your career. Like Rice, it can cut short your playing time on the pitch.
Also, while a cramp is usually not harmful or causes permanent injuries, it can be a sign of an underlying health condition. So, what causes cramps and how can you prevent them from ruining your soccer career? Keep reading to find out!
- Why do I get cramps when I play soccer?
- How do you stop a soccer cramp?
- How do you stop a soccer cramp in the leg?
- How do you stop a soccer cramp in the stomach?
Why do I get cramps when I play soccer?
The calf of human beings consists of two muscles namely the soleus and the gastrocnemius which connect the heels to the back of the upper leg. These muscles facilitate the leg’s movements necessary for all soccer activities such as kicking, running, and jumping.
During a cramp, these muscles contract involuntarily making it hard for the soccer player to move their legs. In some cases, you may feel a hard mass of muscles protruding from the area experiencing the cramp.
Throughout a cramping episode, the muscles of the leg will contract suddenly and you will temporarily lose control of the affected muscles.
The main causes of camping of the muscles while playing soccer are dehydration, muscle overuse, muscle tiredness, excessive strain on the muscles, contusion or blow to the muscles, and restriction of blood supply to the muscles.
Low levels of nutrients such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium (lost through excessive sweating) have also been implicated with cramping.
Cramps can last anywhere from a few seconds to up to over ten minutes. You will only regain control of the affected muscles once the cramp stops.
This is why soccer players are advised to drink appropriate fluids before and during a soccer game to stay hydrated. It is also crucial for soccer players to break their training into active and rest periods to avoid muscle overuse.
To avoid muscular exhaustion, soccer players should go through a muscle recovery routine after every game as well as ensure they get good rest before and after training and games.
How do you stop a soccer cramp?
If you can endure the pain, wait it out. Cramps will subside after a while and you will regain control of your muscles—but we bet not a lot of soccer players out there will have that strength and patience to wait for their cramp episode to pass.
There is a popular saying that “prevention is better than cure”. Thus, knowing the ways of preventing cramps can help you avert the excruciating pain that comes with them.
Undergoing 5 to 10 minutes of warm-up sessions and stretching exercises before your introduction to the game will lower your chance of experiencing cramps. Research shows that cold muscles are more prone to dehydration which increases the risk of cramping.
Soccer players that experience recurring cramps may need to visit a therapist who would prescribe medications that will help relax the muscles. However, no injection or pill will instantly stop cramping when it is already happening.
How do you stop a soccer cramp in the leg?
As we mentioned earlier, soccer players mostly suffer leg and stomach cramps. Older soccer players are at a higher risk of suffering leg cramps than younger players.
This is due to the shortening of the tendons (tissues connecting bones to muscles) with age. Women also have a higher chance of getting cramps than men—and we don’t know why.
Even after a cramp has stopped, it may surprise you to know that the muscles in the area that experienced the cramp may continue to hurt for several hours.
If you happen to develop cramps on the pitch or training ground, here are the methods you can take to provide relief to your aching muscles.
Method 1: Stretch and massage the cramping muscles
If you are experiencing muscle cramps, stretching and massaging can help to both ease the pain and stop the cramp. Start by applying pressure on the calf and massaging the muscles in the area to help the muscles relax.
If you can stand, shift your weight to the leg suffering the cramp. Try to walk by bending your knee slightly. On the other hand, if it is severe that you are unable to stand or walk, sit on a chair or floor and extend the cramped leg forward.
While your leg is in that extended position, hold your toes and bend them backward. This should help to ease a calf or back thigh cramp.
If the cramping happens in the quadriceps or front thigh, lean against support, like the vertical bars of the post, or use a chair as a support to keep you standing. Bend the cramped leg backward until it touches the buttocks.
- You don’t need help from anyone
- Shortens the duration of cramp pain
- Seems to first heighten the pain before easing
Method 2: Massage with an ice pack
With or without medics, every soccer team is supposed to keep a first aid box handy during training and games. One of the items that should be in that box is an ice pack.
When experiencing cramping, use an ice pack to massage the cramping muscles for 5 to 20 minutes. Apply subtle pressure while moving the ice pack in a circular motion around the cramping muscle.
Continue to apply pressure and move the ice pack in a circular motion until the muscles relax and the pain subsides.
- An ice pack will soothe the pain of the cramp
- You will likely need help to pull this off
Method 3: Apply heat to the cramped muscle
Heat treatment is also an effective way of stopping the cramping of the leg muscles. If you happen to have a heating pad or a warm towel in your possession when the cramping starts, use it to massage the cramping muscles.
Alternatively, if the cramping starts after the game when you are at home, taking a warm bath will help to ease the cramp.
- Helps to ease cramp pain
- A warm towel or heating pad is not readily available on the pitch
How do you stop a soccer cramp in the stomach?
Although cramp in the stomach is not as common as cramp in the legs among soccer players, it is still a problem that happens now and then. This involuntary muscle contraction happens either in the abdomen or under the ribs.
Cramping under the ribs is also called a side stitch. Since the cause of a side stitch is not fully understood, experts suggest that it may be due to the bouncing forces exerted on the abdominal walls.
Some of the factors that have been implicated in stomach cramping among soccer players include dehydration, playing the game on a full stomach, consuming too much spicy food, binging on carbonated drinks, inadequate stretching before the game, and inadequate breathing while sprinting.
Stomach cramp is avoidable. Adequate exercise and the consumption of certain food classes before a game can help to prevent stomach cramps.
Nevertheless, if you still experience cramping even after you must have taken the necessary precautions to prevent it, there are a few ways to stop it or hasten your recovery.
Method 1: Rehydrate
Soccer players lose a lot of fluid as sweat when playing soccer and this can lead to cramps. If you experience stomach cramps as a result of dehydration, taking fluids rich in calcium, sodium, and potassium can stop the cramp or hasten your recovery.
Don’t gulp mouthfuls of the fluid because you may worsen the pain. Rather, take small sips of the fluid and swallow consistently until the cramping stops and the pain subsides.
Method 2: Stretching
In the absence of a fluid containing the right nutrients that we mentioned, stretching can help to stop the cramp or hasten your recovery. While standing or lying on your side, bend your head and the upper part of your body backward until your back forms an arc.
Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds and return to a straight posture. If the cramping doesn’t stop after the first stretch, repeat the stretch.
Method 3: Reverse breathing
This method is particularly important for stopping side stitches during a soccer game. Once you experience a side stitch, exhale as forcefully as possible.
Follow this up with shallow breath-ins. Do this shallow breathing 10 times. You should feel the pain from the side stitch subsiding.
Follow this up with breathing using the stomach rather than with your chest. Controlled breathing is the key to stopping a cramp in your diaphragm.
Cramp is not life-threatening and will resolve on its own even if you do nothing. As a soccer player, receiving a kick on your calves or stomach or having the ball hit you hard in these areas can trigger cramping.
Staying hydrated, eating the right food in the right quantity, and adequate warm-up exercise before a game are the keys to preventing the most common types of cramps among soccer players.
Also, stretching happens to be one of the most effective ways of stopping or hastening your recovery from all kinds of cramps.
Nevertheless, if you have cramps, make sure that you recover completely before going back to playing. Even when the pain has subsided, you still need a short period of rest of the nervous system to stop sending signals to the cramping muscles.
In addition to avoiding foods and drinks that can increase your chances of getting a cramp, avoid reckless tackles that will put you at risk of taking a hit.
However, if your cramping episodes during a soccer game become too frequent, you should see a physician to check for any underlying cause of the cramping and recommend further treatments.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!