cramping began in Maggie Bartonís toes during a tennis
playoff match six summers ago. It swept up her body like a
torrent, overtaking her calves and her entire body, leaving in
its wake excruciating pain and an inability to move her arms.
arms were around a bench, and it took three people to get me
off of it," says Barton, 39, of Dallas. "Youíre
not in control. Itís really, really painful, and itís
scary. You feel like itís going to go to your heart."
cramping can happen in any season, itís especially prevalent
during summer. Heat, humidity and an imbalance of electrolytes
can bring down anyone ó even and especially elite athletes
like LeBron James, who was debilitated by cramps during the
NBA finals. Thatís because the elite often try to push
through cramps; everyday athletes tend to stop once they feel
James got scoffs for leaving the game, those who know about
cramping also know he had no choice.
can pass judgment on the dramatics," says Scott Galloway,
an athletic trainer at an area branch of Texas Health Ben
Hogan Sports Medicine. "But what you canít pass
judgment on is the level of fatigue and the actual
cramping is the way the body lets you know, "Hey, I canít
handle any more," he says. "If your brain doesnít
tell you to stop, your body will. Itís one thing to get a
cramp in the bed in your calf. You pull your toes back, and it
stretches and goes away. But when an elite athlete starts
experiencing cramping, your body is basically shutting down
and youíre going into a form of exhaustion."
continuing isnít an option, says Cindy Trowbridge of the
University of Texas at Arlington. During cramping, muscles
tighten so much "youíre almost in rigor mortis without
the death." Moving your arms and legs, like trying to
unfurl someoneís hand in rigor mortis, is all but
impossible, she says.
canít do anything to straighten them because the muscles are
so powerful, and itís painful," says Trowbridge,
associate professor of kinesiology and clinical education
coordinator for the universityís Athletic Training Education
Program. "The pain is causing more cramping."
describes cramping as the nervous system being "on
overdrive. In particular, the motor nerves that cause the
muscle to contract are shortened. Itís like putting your
foot on the accelerator and revving the carís engine."
the body would say, "How much contraction do I
need?" and shuts off when it needs to shut off, she says.
this time, the muscles are contracted and are contracting so
hard and so fast, it ends up in a positive feedback loop. Your
body turns on more cramping.
asking more and more of your body, but it canít shut
off," Trowbridge says. "Youíre dehydrated. What
that does is not only cause water loss but an electrolyte
words, you can be hydrated but your electrolytes can be off.
Barton says she was diligent about drinking water that first
summer she succumbed to cramps. A native of Colorado, she hadnít
experienced summers like those in Texas.
had been drinking a ton because everybody said to drink,
drink, drink," says Barton.
nobody mentioned electrolytes. Now I overdo with electrolytes
because once youíve cramped, your body tends to cramp
leaves the tennis court the moment she starts cramping.
Hull, tennis professional at Lakes Tennis Academy in Frisco,
Tex., has seen plenty of cramping, the most recent a
15-year-old player whose legs couldnít stop spasming and who
needed four IVs at the hospital. Tennis matches are usually
played at the most grueling time of day, plus temperatures
rise 10 degrees on tennis courts.
you start cramping, itís over," says Hull, who was that
boyís age when he had his own cramping episode during tennis
people may have a predisposition to cramping, Trowbridge says,
but thereís still no telling who will.
causes you to get them when someone next to you is losing the
same amount of water and electrolytes, but isnít getting
them?" she says. "Weíre different. We digest
things differently; we sweat certain amounts."
addition, some people are salty sweaters, whereas others donít
sweat as much salt.
youíre a sweater," Galloway says, "your body
releases sodium. You have depletion of sodium, and your
muscles need sodium to work."
people may be deficient in calcium, so that mineral could be a
trigger for them, he says. Just as vague as the cause is the
solution. Some people swear by bananas, some by yellow
mustard. Barton says people call her the "pickle juice
girl" because she always has a bottle of the salty liquid
in her bag.
anyone ever tells you they have the cure for cramps, theyíre
lying," Trowbridge says. "Maybe for a few athletes
they tested, something worked. Iím not saying it didnít."