As growing athletes participate in sports practice, they may experience issues like muscle cramps as a result of dehydration and improper stretching or warm-ups.
“Muscle cramps are involuntary contractions of the muscles that can occur at any time, interrupting a workout or game in the blink of an eye,” says Lindsey Ream, MEd, LAT, ATC, Athletic Training Manager, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Sports Medicine Program.
What causes muscle cramps?
Muscle cramps may be caused by extended periods of exercise, general overuse muscle fatigue, dehydration or muscle strain. And, they can occur anywhere on the body but typically target the lower extremities like calves or feet.
3 tips to prevent muscle cramps
- Drink plenty of fluids.
For activities that last longer than an hour, a fluid with carbohydrates (sugar) and electrolytes is best. Gatorade and Powerade were designed specifically for rehydration during exercise and contain the right amount of carbohydrates (about 6-8%). We do not recommend drinking fruit juice or soda, as they contain too much sugar for effective hydration and can cause cramping.
- Pre-hydrate 30 minutes before an activity. Drink until no longer thirsty, plus another 8 ounces.
- Drink 5 ounces every 20 minutes of activity for kids and teens weighing less than 90 pounds.
- Drink 8 ounces every 20 minutes of activity for kids and teens weighing more than 90 pounds.
- Stretch your muscles every day.
It is important for growing athletes to warm up properly, whether that be a dynamic warm-up or activity specific stretching, ideally before and after an activity. While kids are still growing, stretching before bedtime is also recommended, because they tend to get night cramps.
- Don’t suddenly increase activity or the amount of exercise.
Increase an activity over time and make sure to properly warm up before beginning exercises. Also, an athlete should gradually start an activity they have never tried before or haven’t done in quite some time. We recommend slowly getting back into the activity over a few weeks’ time.
How to treat muscle cramps in teen athletes
If a growing athlete does get a muscle cramp, stretching and massaging the area can help alleviate pain. Most cramps subside within a few seconds, if not a minute. If a muscle cramp gets to be too painful, the athlete can take an over-the-counter medicine, such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen. Be sure to follow the dosage instructions.
If the muscle cramp doesn’t go away and is non-emergent, we recommend following up with your child’s pediatrician. Typically, muscle cramps are not an emergency, but if they persist, it wouldn’t hurt to check with your child’s doctor to make sure there’s not an underlying issue.
Children's Sports Medicine Program
At Children’s, our Sports Medicine Program is one of only a few in the country dedicated exclusively to the care of growing athletes. We provide comprehensive assessment, treatment and expert advice for teens and young adults with injuries and conditions that affect sports performance. Our team consists of sports medicine primary care physicians, orthopedic surgeons, sports physical therapists and certified athletic trainers.
Visit choa.org/sportsmed to find a pediatric sports medicine specialist.
Lindsey Ream, MEd, LAT, ATC, is the Athletic Training Manager for the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Sports Medicine Program. Lindsey’s clinical interests include sports-specific injuries and concussion management. She's been a certified athletic trainer for more than 15 years and is a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association, Southeastern Athletic Trainers Association and Georgia Athletic Trainers Association.
This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.