Children's Hospital Colorado

How to Identify and Avoid Cramps on the Football Field

A football players lies on his back on the field while the athletic trainer treats his cramps.It’s that time of year – when students say goodbye to the freedom of summer and parents welcome the return of the school year! While many people consider this time to be the beginning of “fall”, many of us also see the next few months for what it really is…football season!

As much as we love to watch each game for the break-away run or the fourth down conversion, there is something even more important for players, coaches, and parents to watch for during practices and games…signs of cramps. Not only do cramps hinder performance, but they can be very painful and lead to serious injuries as the athlete loses strength in the affected muscles.

Cramps can be identified by the following symptoms:

  • Muscle pain, especially in the legs
  • Inability to fully perform

What causes cramps while playing in football players?

Cramps are often caused when the levels of sodium, potassium and other minerals in the body are unbalanced, causing pain in the muscles. To help with the pain, NFL coaches used to give their players salt tablets before games for this very reason. 

Learn more about treating muscle cramps.

How to avoid getting cramps

Although coaches may encourage playing through cramps, this is not how you get rid of the pain. There are important steps that can be taken to prevent and treat cramps once they set in. The following tips can help:

  • Staying hydrated with sports drinks that contain electrolytes, sodium, and potassium
  • Proper warm-up exercises

Even the best prevention efforts don’t guarantee an athlete won’t experience cramps. But when they happen, it is important for the player to take a break, keep stretching, and replenish the salt loss through sweating, with more sports drinks, rather than trying to play through the pain. Find out if it’s better to drink water or sports drinks during a game. While it may feel like cramps are just painful and won’t have a long-term impact, it is important to note that they can put athletes at risk for accidents and injuries that are completely preventable.

If players, parents, and coaches watch closely for signs of cramping and address them when they happen, then the odds increase that we’ll also get to see that break-away 70-yard touchdown run, the sack in the end zone, or the 40-yard game winning field goal!

Check out more sports safety articles

Written by: Ruth L. Hart, ATC/R, Certified Athletic Trainer, Thornton High School, Children’s Hospital Colorado.  We are happy to consult with parents or referring providers before a patient is seen at Children’s Colorado.

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