Muscle cramps are painful contractions or spasms of a muscle usually caused by fatigue, water loss, or by inadequate stretching, conditioning, and/or warm-up during soccer practice or competition.
Mechanism of Injury
There are several reasons why a muscle goes into a painful, uncontrolled contraction.
The most common are:
- a blow to the muscle (contusion), like when another player knees your thigh while trying to go for the soccer ball
- over-stretching or applying too much force to a muscle, like when you straighten your leg too far while diving for a soccer ball
Cramps or fatigue may also occur when:
- sodium or potassium levels are too low (as in a perspiring runner who gets calf cramps)
- when there is a rapid temperature change (running in cold weather without a proper warm-up)
Another cause, which is easily preventable, is:
- wearing protective gear too tightly (shin guards sinched too tightly) so that blood cannot get to, and adequately clear the wastes from, an exercising muscle
Signs and Symptoms
- Sudden, sharp, and severe pain, usually when the athlete is in action, but can also occur during a rest interval or even several hours after prolonged, strenuous activity.
- Hard "knotting" (involuntary contraction) of a muscle.
- Loss of function.
P.R.I.C.E. PROTECT the muscle by adequately warming up and cooling down. Your soccer player may need to use a tensor wrap or neoprene sleeve around the muscle to keep it warm during play. REST the muscle after soccer practice and games, never push through pain with activity. ICE for 10-20 minutes to relax the muscle and reduce pain. COMPRESSION may be helpful during activity to keep the muscle protected. See the instructions for PROTECT above. ELEVATE the muscle after activity to encourage blood flow to the heart. A good time for this is while your player is icing.
Referral. Whenever a cramping muscle does not respond to stretching, massage, and/or fluid replacement, assume that some tissue has been damaged. Medical referral to a sports medicine practitioner may be required to get a proper diagnosis. Consider referral to a registered dietician for diet advice also.
Gentle Stretching. Stretch involved muscles gradually and increasingly, but avoid increasing pain.
Hydration. An adequate intake of fluids may prevent, or help to alleviate the cramping. Cramps can be one of the first signs of heat illness.
Gentle Massage. Light massage around the periphery (outside), not directly on the cramping muscle, will often help (prior to massaging the area). Take care to ensure that there is no specific history of direct contact or over-stretching (which would indicate a more serious injury).
Return to Activity. When pain subsides and the athlete is able to stretch the muscle without pain, then the athlete may be ready to continue playing soccer. Although it is not usually a major injury, err on the side of caution, as returning to play too early can lead to further injury or damage to the fatigued muscle.
- Soccer- specific strength and conditioning program
- Proper warm-up and cool-down
- Proper hydration
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