Heat Related Muscle Cramps

It can happen to just about anyone, physically active or not. During the NBA finals of 2014, LeBron James became the poster child of heat related cramps and how debilitating they can be. During the first game of the NBA finals, the superstar player had to leave the game late in the fourth quarter because he had developed severe leg cramps.

It doesn’t matter how physically active and well trained you are, when you exercise in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, which is what happened during LeBron’s game when the air conditioner malfunctioned, you are at greater risk of developing heat related cramps. Unfortunately, his team lost the game.

One of the most common causes of muscle cramps is over-exercising in hot environments. The body sweats and loses fluids at an accelerated rate. In order to stay hydrated, the body needs to take in more fluids. When the body goes into a state of dehydration, the muscles are forced to take water from themselves and put it back into the body to keep your blood pumping. As a result, your muscles begin to cramp.

Muscles that get more activity than others generally cramp more often than other muscles. You’re also more likely to suffer heat cramping when you push yourself harder than usual.

My first experience with heat cramps came when I visited my hometown during a break from college. They were have a 5K run and because I’d been on the high school track team, they invited me to join the race. I hadn’t trained in over a year, but figured once you know how to run a couple miles, your body will remember how to do it.

I took the cups of water handed to the runners throughout the race, I spilled more than I drank. I didn’t mind, the water cooled me off.
It wasn’t until about halfway through that I realized that while I had been trying to rehydrate myself, in the extreme heat of that July run, I had stopped sweating.

I was young, ignorant, and figured it didn’t matter. The race was almost over, and sure enough on the last leg where we had to run once around the high school track to cross the finish line I had plenty of kick to finish the race.

About an hour later, however, I began to have the most unendurable cramps I have ever experienced in my life. A trip to the emergency room (yes, they were that bad) taught me that if you ever stop sweating during physical exertion, that is a very dangerous warning sign. It’s a lot like running your automobile engine without any coolant or water.

I came very close to a dangerous heat prostration event. My electrolytes were way out of balance, my heart rate erratic, to say nothing of the cramps. Once I was rehydrated, all my symptoms went away. It’s amazing how wonderful the human body is.

coconut-1391809572taEDrinking water helped, but because we also lose electrolytes when we sweat, we need to replace those as well. Coconut water, sports drinks, even pickle juice can help minimize the problems that I suffered. Since that time, I have the most profound respect for exercising in the heat.

Coconut by Maliz Ong