by Miami Beach Chiropractic | Sports Medicine Specialist Dr. Todd Narson
Those of us sitting on the edge of our seats last night as the 4th quarter of game 4 of the NBA finals was winding down gasped when LeBron James got tripped up and fell (at least those of us who are Miami Heat fans gasped). When he had difficulty getting back up and then had a noticeable limp as he ran across the court, we started hearing about muscle cramps and were starting to get seriously worried about our impending win. You were able to see Miami Heat head trainer Jay Triano applying ice-massage with a bag of ice on LeBron's thigh and taking him through a series of stretches and some muscle work to break the cycle of cramping/spasm. Luckily Chalmers stepped up to the plate and invoked the spirit of LeBron 2012 and Wade 2006 to help us secure the win.
In my career as a sports chiropractor I’ve had the opportunity to work with athletes from most every sport. Over the past 3 years I had some interesting incidents occur involving 2 of my athlete patients and muscle cramps. Since both patients have publicly described the stories, I can tell you specifics. Shawn was doing his first Boston Marathon as part of the Livestrong team. At the same time I was sitting in my office in Miami Beach when I get this phone call. “Hey Doc, It’s Shawn”… and the conversation continued with him telling me he was on mile 17 of the Boston Marathon when his right quads cramped and he was going to have to drop out of the race..."was there anything I could do?"
E.T. was doing the Ragner Relay from Miami to Key West when he suffered the same fate. He and several other team mates share different legs of the marathon. On his second leg of the race, cramps started that he couldn’t break. He also called me when he was back in the van.
In both cases I knew the racers were well hydrated and with appropriate electrolytes, so that wasn’t the problem. They are both accomplished athletes. It wasn’t as simple are replacing some electrolytes and walking it off and then they're back in action. Earlier in my career studying sports medicine I learned about this concept called Reciprocal Inhibition. Reciprocal inhibition very basically means that when one muscle is contracting, it’s opposing muscle be inhibited from contracting. In other words, when one muscle contracts, the other must relax. So, during the phone call with Shawn in Boston and E.T. somewhere between Miami & Key West, I guided them on how to do reciprocal inhibition themselves. Within a couple minutes, Shawn was able to go on and conquer heartbreak hill and finish his first Boston Marathon and E.T. was able to complete his marathon relay to Key West.
Joints are controlled by two opposing sets of muscles. In LeBron's case, the knee being controlled by the quadriceps and hamstrings. They are the muscles that extend and flex the knee. They must synchronized in order to work properly. When a little organ called the muscle spindle is stretched (or in LeBron's case, overstretched), the “stretch reflex” is automatically engaged as a protective measure. As a result, the opposing muscle group is inhibited (relaxed) to prevent it from working against the contracting muscle. Just think, how would it be if your biceps and triceps could contract at the same time? It just wouldn't work. So you're nervous system is wired in such a way that this doesn't happen.
Therefore we can use this to our advantage to break the cycle a muscle spasm (aka cramp). In LeBron James’ case, it seemed to be his quadriceps that cramped and also seems to be what is being reported. So contracting his hamstrings would neurologically inhibit the cramping quadriceps. The same thing that was happening to Shawn in the Boston Marathon. E.T. was the opposite, his hamstrings were cramping and I had him do several contractions of his quads to neurologically inhibit/relax his hammies.
So next time cramps stop you in your tracks, try this neurological inhibition technique to break the cycle of cramps. Hopefully it will work wonders like it did for my two runners. And Lebron, you’ve got the heart of a Lion to play through those cramps the way you did. You made us proud and next time, feel free to try this technique like Shawn and E.T. did. Yes they were sore, but they were able to finish miles of more running after their cramps had them on the ground.
It's not fool proof, but it worked great with Shawn, E.T. and personally in my last triathlon. When a title is on the line, it helps to have all the tools possible in your tool bag. Hope this one works for you too!
© 2012 Dr. Todd M. Narson. All rights reserved
Dr. Narson is a 2-term past president of the Florida Chiropractic Association’s Council on Sports Injuries, Physical Fitness & Rehabilitation and was honored as the recipient of the coveted Chiropractic Sports Physician of the Year Award in 1999-2000. He practices in Miami Beach, Florida at the Miami Beach Family & Sports Chiropractic Center; A Facility for Natural Sports Medicine.