Ask the Doctor: Muscle Cramps

Q. My son plays football and often gets muscle cramps in the heat of summer.  What can he do to prevent them?


A. Muscle cramps can be caused by dehydration, an electrolyte imbalance, or an inadequate supply of blood to a muscle. The most common type of muscle cramp is a heat cramp, which is caused by profuse sweating while exercising in hot conditions. The best preventative measure in your son’s situation is fluid replacement at the rate of eight ounces per every 20 minutes of activity. In some cases, an electrolyte imbalance – usually involving a sodium, magnesium, or potassium deficiency – may develop over prolonged exercise periods. Your son can minimize his chance of this by sprinkling his food with a light layer of salt (assuming he is not on a low-sodium diet). He can also obtain additional electrolytes by including more fresh vegetables, bananas, and oranges in his diet.  Finally, he should check to see whether any brace or tape he is wearing is too tight, as this can restrict blood supply to an exercising muscle. If these suggestions do not bring relief and he continues to have frequent leg cramps, he should see a physician.


Chad Smalley, MD
Sports Medicine and Shoulder Specialist
Center for Sports Medicine & Orthopaedics
Locations in Hixson, East Brainerd, Cleveland, and Downtown on McCallie Ave.