News items Oh cramp, what do you do about it? 

25 June 2024

Annoying, that muscle cramp that often occurs in football players towards the end of the match. What can you do about it? And does pickle juice, which English footballer Kieran Trippier drank when he got cramps during England-Serbia, really help or is it a myth?

Nicol Voermans, neurologist and professor of Muscular diseases

'When you get a cramp, a muscle contracts involuntarily. It can last for a few seconds to several minutes. The cause is usually a combination of factors. In athletes, it often happens due to a mix of fatigue and dehydration. Some people are more prone to cramps due to genetic factors. Using certain medications, or having had a hernia or other nerve damage, can also make you more susceptible to cramps. 

If you want to prevent cramps as a top athlete, you should ensure you get enough rest and stay hydrated. For intense exercise, this can mean drinking up to a liter of fluid per hour, depending on the temperature. 

You should also be careful with caffeine, as it stimulates the muscles. It’s not about a single cup of coffee or a glass of cola, but multiple drinks. Energy drinks often contain much higher concentrations of caffeine. High amounts of caffeine can cause muscles to cramp more easily. Alcohol can also cause cramps because it dehydrates the body. 

If you do get a cramp, you can relieve it by stretching. There's little evidence supporting the positive effect of pickle juice, but there was an American study conducted on people with liver cirrhosis, a severe form of liver damage sometimes accompanied by a magnesium deficiency. This study showed that the intensity of muscle cramps decreased in liver patients who took a spoonful of pickle juice three times a day. However, this study does not prove that it helps against muscle cramps in healthy athletes. 

Fortunately, cramps rarely have long-term consequences but are, of course, very bothersome.’

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Annemarie Eek


Matthijs Kox

senior researcher IC

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Pauline Dekhuijzen

wetenschaps- en persvoorlichter

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