Leg Cramps While Playing Basketball

Man playing basketball

When your leg muscles cramp up during the middle of a basketball game, it becomes more than just a minor annoyance. The cramp can actually hinder your team's chance of winning the game. Understanding the nature of cramps and learning how to deal with them will help you get back out on the court so you can help lead your team to a victory.


Basketball involves a lot of cutting, running, jumping and turning, and your legs are in a constant state of motion. Muscle fatigue is one cause of leg cramps, according to the National Institutes of Health. As your muscles become fatigued due to excess running and jumping, they might cramp up and prevent you from continuing play. Dehydration is another main cause of muscle cramping. If the game is an intense one, involving lots of fast breaks and hard-fought defenses, you may be losing more fluids through sweat than you think.

Treatment and Prevention

Pace yourself to avoid cramping up during the middle of a game. If you feel tired or your legs feel weak, tell the coach at the next timeout that you need a substitute. It's better to sit out a few minutes and give your legs some rest than stay in and have to leave because of leg cramps. Drink plenty of fluids before and during the game. If possible, have a sports drink on hand that contains essential electrolytes like sodium, calcium and potassium to help prevent a depletion in your body's electrolyte levels. Spend at least 10 to 15 minutes before the game stretching your legs to help prevent cramps.

Calf Stretch

The calf is a common culprit for leg cramps in basketball players because it is used to make sharp movements, jump and change directions. To stretch your calves before the game, stand next to a wall or other sturdy surface. Brace both hands against the wall and push one leg out behind you. Straighten that leg, and keep your foot flat on the floor. Bend your other leg until you feel a stretch in the calf of your straightened leg. Hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds, then rest and repeat with the other leg.

Hamstrings Stretch

Your hamstrings are another common place to get cramps during intense basketball play. Spend time stretching your hamstrings before the game begins to warm up and prepare for action. Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you. Bend your left leg, and place the bottom of your left foot on the inside of your right knee. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in your right hamstring. Hold this stretch for 10 to 15 seconds, then relax and switch legs to stretch out your other hamstring.