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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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November 2000

Q. I am very active in soccer. Before I play I always make sure to drink plenty of fluids and stretch a lot. But toward the end of the game I experience severe leg cramps. I have no idea what is causing this and would like to know how to prevent this.

A. Leg cramps with exertion may have several causes. In the elderly, impaired circulation must be considered, termed "Claudication." Given that you are active in soccer, I would guess you are a bit younger (although not necessarily). In younger people, it would be more common for leg cramps to be caused by build up of lactic acid due to anaerobic metabolism (muscles demand for nutrients/energy exceeds the ability of the body to produce enough via typical oxygen/aerobic metabolism). This leads to lactic acid formation which can cause cramps.

Other possibilities include electrolyte deficiency such as low potassium, thyroid disease and heat excess. Blood tests can be checked for electrolyte and thyroid disturbances.

It sounds like you are doing appropriate stretching which may reduce the risk of injury. Drinking fluids is also very important, especially those containing electrolytes such as Gatorade. Of course, in between your soccer games, trying to get some periods of rest would be helpful to decrease anaerobic metabolism and therefore decrease lactic acid build up. Regular exercise can improve conditioning and also decrease lactic acid build up, especially for those who just work out once per week or less.

Ref: SOURCE: Am Fam Physician 1995 Nov 1;52(6):1794-8 CITATION IDS: PMID: 7484689 UI: 96048951

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