Why do footballers get cramp?

We spoke to Southampton’s director of performance, Mo Gimpel, to find out why muscles seize up unexpectedly during games and how you can prevent it 

There are few things more painful on a football pitch than the searing agony of your hamstring or calf muscle cramping unexpectedly just as the full-time whistle approaches.
 
For overweight Sunday League players, a lack of fitness would be seem to be the obvious cause, but why do super fit professional footballers also suffer with the same problem?
 
It’s a question we decided to put to Southampton’s director of performance, Mo Gimpel, to find out the answer once and for all so you don’t have to experience it again. 
 
Related story: Three stretches to stop cramp
 
Hi Mo, we keep getting cramp during games – why does this happen?
“The evidence still isn’t clear; people get cramp for a variety of reasons. The first place I’d look at is salt – how much salt are you sweating out during games? We had players in the past – Adam Lallana was one of them - who sweated a lot of salt. It took us a while to get on top of it but we added a little salt to his pre-match drink and it sorted it out. Taste your sweat – if it tastes salty you’re probably a salty sweater.”
 
Good tip, but what if we’re not salty sweaters?
“Sometimes, simple things like tie-ups around boots, socks and shin-pads, can cause cramp. You need to check and see how much constriction there is. You may need to just make a simple change before a game like stretching your socks before you play or loosening up your tie-ups. The other factor is that you might be unfit or unconditioned for the game. Players cramp up in extra-time because their bodies just aren’t used to playing for 120 minutes.
 
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Is it something that just affects older players?
“Not necessarily. You find some young players go through a phase when they just cramp up for no particular reason. Players between the ages of 17 and 21 can often go through this and there doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason for it. They can suffer with it for a few years and then they just grow out of it."

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