Have you ever had a calf cramp? Do you know how intense it is? In case you didn’t know, calf cramps will probably put you out of the game before you could “spell cramps.”
As harmless as calf cramps may seem, it can be excruciating while it lasts. Due to the contraction of your muscle, you will be unable to use the affected part as long as the spasm lasts. Statistically, the most common victims of calf cramps have been recorded to be athletes.
Furthermore, sports that involve the excessive use of the legs like swimming, soccer, racing, and cycling have the highest calf cramps cases. As a result of the prolonged and overuse of their leg muscles, soccer players most especially get affected by calf cramps.
Due to the rampant occurrence, we have researched and compiled a list of proven ways to help you prevent leg cramps while playing soccer. As a soccer player or athlete, this article will help reduce the probability of you having to deal with calf cramps in your future games.
- How Calf Cramps Occur?
- How To Prevent Calf Cramps When Playing Soccer?
- Avoid dehydration
- Avoid wearing your protective gear too tightly
- Warm-up before the match starts
- Include a lot of vitamins and minerals in your diet
- Check your medications
- Keep moving during the breaks
- How To Stop Calf Cramps When It Happens While Playing Soccer?
How Calf Cramps Occur?
Calf cramps usually occur when there is a sudden contraction in your calf muscles. The impact leaves you in pain and temporarily unable to use the affected leg for about 1 to 15 minutes.
Most times, calf cramps are caused by the overuse of the leg muscles and dehydration. However, the good news is that calf cramps usually last only for a short period and can be treated with self-care.
Most common causes of calf cramps while playing soccer
Before we delve into how to prevent calf cramps while playing soccer, we will examine the most common causes. It will help identify which of the following factors applies to you as this will assist in your endeavor to reduce the odds of experiencing calf cramps while playing soccer.
Overstretching of the muscle
The most common cause of calf cramps is muscle strain. For example, if a player stretches the legs beyond limits while kicking the ball, it can cause calf cramps.
This is because every muscle in the human body has its level of flexibility, and when you push past the limit, your muscles suffer the effect. Consequently, your ability to move is affected, and if care is not taken, it may affect your overall performance as an athlete.
The symptoms of an overstretched muscle include:
- Muscle pull or leg cramps
- Swelling of the area where the muscle is affected.
When you feel any of the above symptoms, it’s best to discontinue playing soccer and call for treatment to prevent further complications.
Low sodium or potassium levels
Can lack of salt cause calf cramps? Yes! Low sodium causes the space between the muscles to contract. The contraction is what causes pain when the calf cramps occur.
Contrary to what most people think, leg cramps are not only caused by physical strain. The cause of your muscle cramps might be internal, and one of the likely internal causes of calf cramps is low sodium levels in the body.
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A low sodium level may cause a soccer player’s calf to cramp because the player releases excessive sweat while running around. Furthermore, sweat is a composition of water, salt, and electrolytes, which explains why salinity levels will decrease in your body when you sweat.
Generally, it is not a bad thing to sweat. However, the excessive release calls for a replacement of sodium so the body can function properly and prevent health issues.
A blow to the muscle
A player might mistakenly or deliberately kick another player’s leg in an attempt to dribble and play the soccer ball. The sudden blow to the leg can cause a spasm in the victim’s muscle, resulting in an exploding pain.
Unfortunately, such situations are not uncommon in soccer due to the physicality of the game. Even with the law regulating bodies and players being careful not to go against them, there will always be such cases once in a while.
For instance, Eden Hazard suffered a muscle tear injury in Real Madrid against Paris Saint-Germain on the 26th of November, 2019.
This was after a tackle from his international teammate, Thomas Meunier. This injury forced the Belgian forward to miss the 18th of December match against Barcelona at Camp Nou.
Going straight to play soccer without warming up
Playing soccer without warming up or stretching your muscles is like deliberately inviting calf cramps while playing soccer. The muscles in your body, especially the leg muscles, need to be prepared for the running and kicking you will be doing while playing a match.
The consequences for not warming up may even be more severe than calf cramps because when the leg muscles are not prepared for physical activities, there may be cases of tears.
Some consequences of not warming up before hitting the field include;
- Muscle strain
- Increased risk of injuries
- Decrease in productivity rate.
The muscles in your body need fluid to relax. When the muscles are fluid deprived, they become prone to contraction. Why? Dehydration may be the cause of your calf cramps as a player is quite obvious.
While playing soccer, you sweat a lot, and the primary component of sweat is water. If the lost fluid is not adequately replaced, there will be a shortage in the body system.
When there is inadequate fluid in the body, it reacts by storing water for vital organs like the lungs and the heart. This process implies that less vital parts like your muscles will not get supplied the needed amount of water and electrolytes.
Not only that, but the blood flow to your less vital parts also decreases. When that happens, your muscles begin to cramp, and you start to feel contractions in your calf muscles and thighs.
You also need to understand that dehydration is not only caused by the shortage of water in your body. When there is a reduction in the level of required electrolytes in your cells, too, you will be dehydrated.
Common symptoms of dehydration include;
- Increase in heart rate
- Spasm in the muscles
- Decrease in urination
- Dry mouth and skin
How To Prevent Calf Cramps When Playing Soccer?
Muscle cramps have a surprisingly high number of factors that trigger them. However, most of these causative factors can be easily prevented.
Check out some ways to prevent calf cramps when playing soccer below;
As a soccer player, you must drink plenty of water and sports drinks to avoid dehydration. Your body sheds more water whenever you are active on the field, which means you must replace the lost water to avoid issues like cramps.
You should note that as an athlete, sports drink intake is more advisable than water. This is because the water you drink can reduce the concentration of essential electrolytes like sodium and potassium in your body.
On the other hand, sports drinks contain water and substances that help boost the electrolytes in your body system. Electrolytes contained in your body also help you to reduce the probability of calf cramps while playing soccer.
So, ensure you take enough sports drinks before, during, and after your soccer matches to stay hydrated and drastically reduce your susceptibility to muscle cramps.
However, there are dangers to overhydration as a soccer player. For instance, a condition known as hyponatremia, which is a low concentration of sodium in the blood, would be the result of overhydration.
Furthermore, soccer players involved in overhydration are susceptible to cell increase, brain swelling, bloating, and possible muscle cramping. So, it’s best that athletes keep their water (or sports drink) intake on a moderate level.
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Avoid wearing your protective gear too tightly
When you wear your gear too tightly while playing soccer, it restricts blood flow in your legs. And as a result of the poor blood flow to your calf muscle, spasms may occur and cause you pain.
The condition is called claudication, which is caused by the hardening of arteries (atherosclerosis) due to blood circulation reduction. To prevent these calf cramps while playing soccer, you should ensure that your protective gear is worn correctly and not too tightly.
While running around playing soccer, your legs need more blood flow and oxygen in the cells. Wearing your gear will narrow the artery that allows blood flow and reduce blood and oxygen flow to the leg muscle cells.
You may not have realized before now that you have been wearing your shin guards too tightly. You can check with your teammates or officials to ensure that you wear your gears safely.
Warm-up before the match starts
Warming up and stretching before the start of the match does your leg muscles a lot of good, and it helps prevent cramps. Because the legs are used most during soccer, you have to pay attention to them when stretching and warm-up before and after the match.
This helps to increase your body temperature and allows more blood to flow to your muscles. Another advantage of warming up before playing soccer is that it helps to reduce the soreness of your muscle and lessen the risk of injuries, including calf cramps.
In addition, you can warm up by walking briskly for 5 to 10 minutes and stretching your leg muscles. It is also essential to pay attention to how your muscles feel when you’re warming up.
For instance, on the 8th of April, 2014, Eden Hazard walked off the field in Chelsea’s match against Paris Saint-Germain just 18 minutes into the match. The then 23-year-old Belgian had suffered a calf strain after feeling some pain while warming up for the match.
This could have been avoided if he had paid attention to the warning signs from his body. Benefits of warming up before playing soccer are;
- Prevention of injuries
- Enhancement of joint motions
- Enhancement of muscle performance
- Increase in oxygen supply and blood flow
- Reduction in muscle soreness after playing soccer.
How to warm up before playing soccer
- Do static stretches for about 5 minutes; This includes actions like squatting, high kicking, and jumping.
- Dynamic stretching; This involves you moving around while doing your stretches. Examples are butt kicks, Frankenstein, knee hugs, and ankle twists.
- Warm-up with the soccer ball; This involves actions that require you to use the ball.
- Jog for 10 minutes to heat your muscle temperature.
Include a lot of vitamins and minerals in your diet
Calf cramps can also be induced by the imbalance of potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium in your body. To stay fit and prevent calf cramps, ensure you take foods and supplements that will supply the necessary nutrients and minerals into your body.
Check below some of the food that can increase the level of calcium, potassium, sodium, and potassium in your body:
|Pumpkin seeds||Fruits||Salted canned beans||Seafood|
|Almond||Cooked spinach||Burrito and pizza||Legumes|
|Cashew||Meat and poultry||Salted nuts||Sardines|
|Avocado||Kidney beans||Salted fish||Turnip|
|Breakfast cereals||Pumpkin||Salted poultry||Spinach|
|Broccoli||Tomato juice||Canned olives||Bread and waffles|
Check your medications
Some medications are responsible for lowering cholesterol levels in the body. However, some drugs also reduce sodium and other essential electrolytes in the body, which can induce cramps if care is not taken.
If you still experience cramps frequently, even after taking precautions like hydrating, warming up before playing soccer, and the likes, you should talk to your doctor. This is important, especially if you are on meds.
When you talk to your doctor, you will get prescribed supplements to use alongside the previous medication or remove the meds responsible for draining the minerals your body needs.
Furthermore, we advise that you follow strictly the prescription and disregard any drug abuse attempts. Why? The drugs that are meant to keep away cramps could cause severe life-threatening conditions to your health.
Keep moving during the breaks
During halftime, try to keep moving for a bit. This will help your muscle gradually relax but not cool because the game is still on. When you go straight to sit after playing the first half of the game, you may experience contractions.
So, instead of going straight to grab a seat, slow it down into a jog and keep your muscles conditioned for the other half of the game. This way, your muscles will still be warmed up, allowing blood flow and supply of oxygen to continue in your legs.
Cases of calf cramps in the extra time
You might have noticed that most cases of leg cramps happen in the extra time during a match. The reason might be because the players are not yet conditioned for that extra time.
If you are not trained to go past a certain period of play in soccer, you may experience cramps due to the overworking of your leg muscles. Usually, games that go into the 30 minutes extra time are challenging.
At that time, players are likely to be suffering from dehydration, increased heat, and the pressure to win. It takes more than training to get through this phase while maintaining your performance.
To prevent that, train your legs more for extra time, keep hydrating and eat healthily. This will equip your legs and body for the extra effort that may be required of them and reduce the risk of contractions in your leg muscles and other complications.
How To Stop Calf Cramps When It Happens While Playing Soccer?
Although the professionals help you recover when you have calf cramps, it would also help if you know how to get through the phase for faster results.
Below are ways you can stop calf cramps when it happens while you’re playing soccer;
- Pause whatever you were doing when the cramp started to prevent further complications.
- Stretch the affected muscle part lightly while holding the stretch for a bit.
- Flex the foot on the affected leg upward and hold it for a bit. Repeat this until you feel the contraction dissolve.
- Jiggle your legs a bit and massage gently.
The truth is calf cramps do not select its victims; it happens to soccer players at different levels. To keep calf cramps away from you, pay attention to your diet, stay hydrated on and off the field, stretch and warm-up before going on the field to play.
Also, several interviews with different athletes across various platforms have led us to conclude that there is no one way to prevent calf cramps. So, from taking sports drinks to eating pickles before and after playing soccer and many more, you can explore different ways to prevent calf cramps for yourself.
What works for you may not work for another player. So, you must explore different ways of preventing leg cramps during soccer and find out the one which works for you the best.
With the list we have prepared above, you should be able to start from somewhere in your endeavor to crush calf cramps and increase your performance while playing soccer.
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!