If you watched the 2015 Australian Open, you saw some of the greatest tennis in the world and some of the greatest drama — involving cramps.
Rafael Nadal survived a second-round scare from American qualifier Tim Smyczek after struggling with severe cramping. Tennis media praised Nadal for fighting through cramps that appeared to attack his legs, stomach and more en route to a five-set win.
This prompted former Wimbledon champion Andy Murray to complain that Nadal was lauded for dealing with the same cramping issue that nearly sidelined him in the opening round of last year’s U.S. Open against Robin Haase. Murray tweeted shortly after the Nadal match:
“When I cramped and won in the us open last year I was a ‘drama Queen, unfit, needs to see a shrink, faker’ weird…”
The cramping issue would come back to haunt Murray in a way later in the Australian Open in his championship loss to Novak Djokovic. Murray lost in four sets, including 12 of the last 13 games. Djokovic appeared to be suffering from cramping, bur rallied every time the injury threatened to derail his bid for a fifth Australian Open championship.
Murray later said that Djokovic’s injury “distracted” him and that the loss was as much a mental one as a display of excellent tennis from the Serbian star. He also indicated in an answer to a reporter’s question that he thought it was possible Djokovic was faking the cramp attack in a bit of gamesmanship. For his part, Djokovic said he wasn’t faking anything.
Faking or not, cramping is a real issue that can frustrate any world-class athlete. Cramping, of course, is a strong, painful contraction or tightening of a muscle that occurs without warning and, most frustratingly, without any immediate remedy. When it happens, most of us have to suffer through it until it subsides.
Cramping often occurs because you are overly fatigued and/or dehydrated. If we don’t replace the water and electrolytes we sweat away during a grueling tennis match, or whatever physical activity we are undertaking, then it’s more likely we will suffer from cramps.
Water on its own is usually sufficient to help you rehydrate, but if you are sweating for 45 minutes or more, it’s a good idea to replace the electrolytes, too. That’s why bananas, which are an excellent source of potassium, magnesium and phosphorous, and oranges, which naturally help replenish sodium, are offered at marathons.
Although sports drinks also help replace electrolytes, be aware they also usually contain a lot of carbs in the form of sugar. Carbs are needed to help burn energy, but too much sugar can make you feel bloated and nauseous, so don’t overdo it with the sports drinks.
Sometimes, you might feel a tightening of the muscles before a cramp occurs. When this happens, take some time to stretch out the muscle. If you have access to heat ointment, use it and maybe even ask a friend to massage the area. You’re trying to avoid a full-out cramp, which can strain or tear the muscle.
If you’re on a run, stop at a First Aid station and ask if they can wrap the area. Most importantly, don’t force the muscle to stretch once the cramp is happening – this greatly increases the likelihood a strain or tear. You can’t force the muscle to relax at this point. You have to wait for the nerves to relax, or goad them into relaxing by gently rubbing the area.
Another danger that can occur from cramping is the “tough-it-out” injury. After a cramp on a run, some people will try to keep going through the discomfort, often adjusting how they run or limping along. This puts more weight on the other leg which can lead to another injury.
Take some time out to try to walk off the injury until you can run normally and, if needed, admit defeat and get on the sag wagon. There’s always another run, and it’s usually only a week away. But if you injure yourself, you won’t be running for a while.
ALAMO RUN FEST: I want to encourage you to sign up for the 3rd annual H-E-B Alamo Run Fest Feb. 21-22. I’m proud to have been asked to be Medical Director for this wonderful family-friendly weekend of activities. Events include a half marathon, 10K, 5K and HEB Buddy Kids Classic, which is a short distance, non-competitive run for kids 12 and under.
You can learn more and register online by clicking the link below. I’ll see you there.
Dr. Annette “Dr. Z” Zaharoff heads the Non-Surgical Center of Texas, focusing on non-surgical alternatives to relieve pain and repair injuries. A former professional tennis player who competed in the WTC circuit, Dr. Zaharoff remains actively involved with the US Tennis Association. Learn more about her at www.drzmd.com. You can follow her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/DrZaharoff.