Ask the Sports Doc: Cramps

Published 10:27 pm Monday, April 27, 2009

Dr. Patel writes: One of the biggest concerns parents and coaches have is how do athletes avoid cramps during the hot summer days and nights.

Dear Coaches and Parents:

Cramps are involuntary contractions of muscle in the body. The most common location for cramps is in the legs and the thighs. They can however occur in any muscle group and more commonly are found in muscles that span a joint.

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The exact reason for cramping in unknown but there are several potential causes. Inadequate stretching and muscle fatigue can lead to cramps. Other factors may also be involved, including exercising or working in intense heat, dehydration and depletion of salt and minerals (electrolytes).

If cramping occurs during a game, first thing to do is to stretch the affected extremity. Massage can also help reduce the pain while the muscles are trying to loosen up again. There are several things that can help decrease the incidence of cramps during practice and games. Make sure you stretch before the event to help the muscle stay nice and loose.

Calf muscle stretch: In a standing lunge with both feet pointed forward, straighten the rear leg. (Repeat with opposite leg.)

Hamstring muscle stretch: Sit with one leg folded in and the other straight out, foot upright and toes and ankle relaxed. Lean forward slightly, touch foot of straightened leg. (Repeat with opposite leg.)

Quadriceps muscle stretch: While standing, hold top of foot with opposite hand and gently pull heel toward buttocks. (Repeat with opposite leg.) Hold each stretch briefly, then release. Never stretch to the point of pain. (Reprinted from

The ultimate goal is to remain hydrated during the sporting activities. I find that Pedia-lyte seems to works the best. Gatorade also helps replenish the electrolytes that are lost after a player sweats.

The key is to stay ahead of the game by starting the drinks two to four hours prior to the game and continue during the game. Water does not have all the electrolytes that help replenish the body. You may also want to try giving your players bananas for lunch (a good source of potassium).