Leg Cramps in Football and Other Sports

The picture at left is a common scene in football, especially in early season games. Typically wide receivers and running backs suffer from sudden, debilitating calf cramps. Once they begin, they are very difficult to rid of and the player is typically out for the rest of the game, or significantly hobbled with recurrent spasms. Marathon runners and triathletes can develop spasms also, usually later in a longer race. Football and marathon running are very different stresses, but research likely reveals that the cure is the same.

What to do when they occur:

At the time of the acute spasm it is important to stretch the muscle very gently, but with persistance (hold it steady). If you stretch the hardened, cramped muscle too hard you can actually cause microscopic tears of the muscle and cause more damage. Ideally combine stretching with broad contact massage and ice the area for 5-10 minutes. The real solution is to prevent them, however.


There are as many folk remedies for leg cramps as there are occurrences. From pickle juice, to bananas, to copper bracelets, we search and try everything imaginable to solve such problems. It certainly is wise to have balanced nutrition, adequate hydration, and the conditioning necessary to prepare for the demands of a given sport. In athletic training we tend to see these issues in early season games when the weather is warmer and the fitness levels are not yet adequate. In spite of covering these bases, some athletes seem a bit more prone to calf cramping. Though there are several factors that contribute, research supports that sodium loss is likely the culprit. A study (Abstract of the study) from 2005 of Division 1 college football players revealed that athletes who suffer from cramps have almost 2 times the sodium loss compared to those who do not suffer from cramps. It does not explain why this occurs, but it is suggested that cramping athletes prevent them with a supplemental dose of electrolyte prior to competition and perhaps at halftime. This may be in the form of electrolyte beverage (avoid the high sugar drinks), but capsule form is often effective. Do a search for SaltStick capsules or other similar product and follow the directions for quantities and timing around athletic events and drink plenty of water with ingestion as well as the hours leading up to the contest. Just remember prevention is the best cure, which is almost always the case with everything. Email us if you have questions or other concerns at info@bmechanics.com

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