Sports doc on LeBron's cramps: 'It was sort of a perfect storm'

Sporting News—June 7, 2014

Chances are, whether you’ve done a whole lot in the athletic realm or not, you’ve experienced a cramp. Most of us have, and that’s why there was a collective rolling of the eyes when LeBron James was carried off the floor at the AT&T Center near the end of Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday — you have shaken off your cramps in the past; why couldn’t James do the same?

Well, probably because you’ve never experienced a cramp at the level James was experiencing. “I just shut down,” James said. “My body just shut down, basically my body said, ‘OK, enough jumping for you for the night. You’ve had enough.’ Nothing I could do about it.”

How did James get to the point where he was so cramped he could not jump or run? To figure that out, we checked with Dr. Marci Goolsby of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

SPORTING NEWS: How does someone like LeBron wind up with such severe cramping?

GOOLSBY: There are a variety of issues that people have muscle cramps. The most common reason is muscle fatigue, so for someone like LeBron, even though he is obviously very fit, some people just with overusing a muscle, that muscle can get very fatigued. Once the cramps start, it is difficult to get them to stop, which we saw in the game. Once the muscle fatigue has set in, once you are dehydrated, it is not enough to just drink more water. It takes more recovery time.

SN: Was it just a matter of it being too hot (in the arena) or is there something more going on? Can people have continual cramping issues?

GOOLSBY: The heat can have something to do with it. Hydration is the big thing; if you are sweating a lot more because of the heat, you can lose not only water but also electrolytes, in the salt that you sweat. When you are losing salt like that, that can cause muscle cramps. Some people are susceptible to cramps and we can’t really figure out why. There are a whole host of reasons people can have muscle cramps, and I think for LeBron, it was sort of a perfect storm in that scenario. There is probably a component of fatigue, there is probably a component of dehydration, there is probably a component of susceptibility.

SN: When you get severe cramping like James had, what does that feel like for a player? How would you describe the symptoms?

GOOLSBY: The whole muscle tightens up and grabs you. It is a bite-like pain and it can cause you to seize up, which is what looked like happened to LeBron. It is when that muscle grabs you and tightens up and causes severe pain. You see people a lot of times, in sports, go down with cramps and it looks like they have had a really bad injury. That’s because the pain is that severe as it is happening.

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