While summer is not officially here, the sweltering heat is. And, during a night match I played recently, I saw one of the dangers that comes with playing tennis in all of this heat – muscle cramps. A woman on the court next to me was playing for maybe 10 to 15 minutes when she suddenly sat down hard on the court with a cramp in her calf. She was unable to massage it out, although she really tried. She ultimately hobbled off the court, her tennis match at an end.
So what causes muscles cramps like that, how do you treat them, and how can you prevent cramping in the first place?
CAUSES: In sports like tennis, muscle cramping typically occurs in the big muscles of the legs – the calf and the hamstring. There are two main causes for these cramps: muscle fatigue and dehydration. Factors that can make you more likely to experience cramping include older age (again with the old age stuff!), poor or nonexistent stretching habits, lack of conditioning, dehydration, high rate of sweating, or excessive exercise intensity and duration.
TREATMENT: So what do you do if you're mid-match and you suddenly experience painful cramps? How do you treat them? First, of course, you have to stop playing, stretch and massage the cramped muscle and ice the area. You will probably be unable to continue playing without further cramping (sorry – this may mean a forfeit). If you think your cramping is due to dehydration and excessive sweating, drink some water or, more helpful, a sports drink to help replace sodium and electrolytes. You'll need some time to recover from muscle cramps so this may mean taking a few days off from tennis and other exercise.
PREVENTION: Of course, it would be best if you never got muscle cramps in the first place. To prevent them, be sure and stretch your muscles before starting a match. Need some good on-court stretches? Check out this post: Winning The Warm-Up. Also, as we've always advocated here at Tennis Fixation, get yourself hydrated. And stay hydrated throughout your match and after to avoid cramping. See these posts for more info on the importance of hydration: Drink! Drink! Drink!, Eat Your Water and Quick Tennis Fix: Hydrate! Finally, keep loose by doing those stretches on a regular basis (yes, even if you're not about to jump on the court) and consider getting a massage every once in a while. At last, you have a great excuse to justify that massage you've been wanting!
© Kim Selzman 2010 All Rights Reserved