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Lebron James' cramps help stifle the Heat: Preventing and treating muscle cramps

Miami Heat's LeBron James cramps up during first game of NBA finals
Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images

In the opening game of the NBA finals at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas, the air conditioning failed. With temperatures on the court reaching the 90s, players sweltered and faced the hazards of heat and dehydration. This may have been a significant factor in the muscle cramps experienced by Miami Heat star LeBron James, which forced him to sit out much of the final quarter and watch from the sidelines as his team faltered. Basketball is played by professionals in indoor arenas, so pro players are used to practicing in air-conditioned facilities and not expecting to be playing in intense heat for significant lengths of time. Under those conditions extra precautions are needed to avoid muscle cramping.

Muscle cramps are common among both amateur and professional athletes. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to help reduce the likelihood of suffering cramps. One important step is to gradually build up endurance. If you suddenly force your muscles to work longer or harder than they are accustomed to then they may run out of energy and cramp up. Another step is to maintain adequate hydration and consume mineral electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium) in sufficient amounts so that energy can be supplied to your muscles. Acclimating to the climate is helpful, as the body must adjust to major changes in temperature or humidity. Another factor is consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates prior to exercise. Complex carbohydrates are ideal since they provide a more sustained supply of energy than simple carbohydrates, while simple carbohydrates (sugars) from whole fruits are better than refined sugars in processed foods or sweetened beverages. One other prevention measure is to use L-glutamine amino acid supplements to support muscle recovery and prevent muscle breakdown.

If you are in the middle of athletic performance and cramps come up, there are steps you can take to help treat them. You can work to gently stretch the muscles. You can also boost circulation with alternating heat and cold applications as well as massage to the affected area. Restoring fluids and electrolytes can make a big difference in speeding up recovery from cramps, so having liquids with electrolytes available is important. This could be electrolyte-infused water, sports drinks, or fresh fruits and vegetables (whole or juiced). Of course, the sooner you recognize that you are about to cramp up, the better, as you need to stop exertion and take the steps to help your muscles recover rather than continuing exercise and aggravating the situation.

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