Updated 04 April 2013

SA cricketers cramping up?

Even the most professional cricket players suffer from cramps. But why- are they unfit? Is it the heat? What could be the problem?

Even the most professional cricket players suffer from cramps. But why- are they unfit? Is it the heat? What could be the problem?

At some time while playing cricket, anyone may experience cramps or stitches. Scientists are still trying to find out the exact cause of these two conditions and how to avoid them.

A cramp is a sudden tight intense pain that most commonly occurs in the leg muscles and is caused when the muscle contracts and does not relax.

Cramps are temporary events and usually do not lead to serious problems. Should they be severe or occur regularly or fail to improve with simple treatment, you need to see a doctor.

A number of factors can potentially contribute to cramping. Of these, a lack of fitness, exercising at high work loads, not stretching and dehydration are particularly common.

It is possible that a combination of the heat in the West Indies - which may lead to dehydration - and the physical stress of playing a long innings could be to blame for some of the Proteas’ cramping.

Furthermore, certain players may simply be physiologically more prone to cramping for reasons that are still poorly understood.

Some kinds of cramping have been linked to electrolyte imbalances. But this kind of cramp is rare in top sportsmen.

Cramps also do not appear to be related to deficiencies of potassium, magnesium and calcium.

A stitch is a localised pain usually felt on the side just below the ribs and usually eases a few minutes after stopping exercise. As with a cramp, the exact cause is uncertain.

During exercise it is possible that a full stomach contributes to a stitch. Eating and drinking inappropriately may also aggravate a stitch. Drinking or eating too closely to exercise, eating fatty foods, drinking fluids with a too high a sugar concentration (because they empty slowly from the stomach), and dehydration may all be factors.

Practical tips:
1. Allow for adequate recovery and rest for muscles after hard training.
2. Stay well hydrated during exercise, but don’t overdo it.
3. Sports drinks (5-7% concentrations) are a good option since they empty from the stomach far quicker than more concentrated solutions or soft drinks (generally 10% concentration) and sports drinks help to replace sodium losses.
4. Adopt a pattern of drinking small amounts of fluid at regular intervals during exercise rather than trying to drink large volumes all at once.
5. Eat salty foods – Marmite sandwiches, pretzels, biltong and salty crackers.
6. Breathe with the diaphragm, strengthen the abdominals and stretch. Progressively increasing the intensity and duration of your training will also help prevent stitches and cramps.
7. Follow pre-match eating guidelines.
8. Should a stitch occur – ease this by slowing down or dropping your intensity and bend forward while pushing on the affected area and breathe deeply. Lie down while elevating your hips. – (Shelly Meltzer and associates, consultant dieticians)

(, March 2007)




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