We’ve all been there — you’re running down the field and your leg spasms uncontrollably. You can’t move it, and it hurts like crazy. Muscle cramps are an unfortunate reality for most athletes, but soccer players in particular have a high risk. This is because they can run an average of seven miles each game, and for Orlando soccer players, they do this in Florida’s heat and humidity! So, what exactly is a muscle cramp, how can you treat them on the field, and how can you prevent them in the future?
What Is a Muscle Cramp?
A muscle cramp is a painful, uncontrolled contraction that can occur when the muscle is overused, tired, dehydrated or strained. There are many scenarios in which this can happen:
A player’s sodium or potassium levels are too low.
The body experiences a rapid temperature change (often from not warming up).
A player is wearing protective gear like shin guards too tightly.
A player experiences a blow to the muscle.
The muscle is overstretched.
Too much force is applied to the muscle.
Treatments On the Field
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help alleviate pain during a muscle cramp. Immediately, you can massage your cramped muscle by rubbing it deeply with your fingers. You can also apply warm or cold packs. A warm pack will relieve your muscle pain after the cramp, while a cold pack will relax a muscle that is currently cramped. For standard treatment, follow the P.R.I.C.E. method.
Protect your muscle. You can do this by wearing a tensor wrap or neoprene sleeve during the game to keep it warm during play.
Rest your muscle after a game or practice. It is important that you never push through the pain with a muscle cramp.
Ice your muscle for about 10-20 minutes.
Compression can be helpful during any activity to keep your muscle protected.
Elevate your muscle after any activity to encourage blood flow to the heart.
In addition to the P.R.I.C.E. method, there are a few preventative measures you can take to prevent muscle cramping. Always warm up before a practice or game and always cool down after. This will help prevent you from straining your muscles. Because muscle cramps are thought to come from low-potassium or low-sodium levels, hydration is key. Try drinking a sports drink that will help replace some of the nutrients you lose during activity. Finally, make sure to stretch and massage your muscles. Taking care of your body is the most important step.
We know that sometimes muscle cramping can be unavoidable, but that there are a few steps Orlando soccer players can take to help prevent injury. For more information on what to do in case of an injury, or how to prevent one, take a look at our blog!