It’s that time of year for high-intensity training and long practices on the field. With that comes dehydration and the dreaded muscle cramps.
But beware, it’s not always muscle cramps from fatigue, heat and humidity. In recent years, we’ve heard about several cases of blood clots, even in young athletes.
Last week, I had the chance to speak with WAKR morning show host Ray Horner about this topic. We discussed the symptoms of blood clots and how they differ from the run-of-the-mill charley horse. We also talked about how kids can prevent the routine muscle cramp.
Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion. Originally aired on 1590 WAKR-AM on Aug. 11, 2014.
DR. CONGENI: I just wanted to talk about one other thing. You know, the No. 1 complaint this time of year when we go to 2-a-days in soccer practice and football practice and training and everything is cramping. But, you also saw that cramping isn’t always just muscle cramps from fatigue and heat and humidity.
You saw this week that Jason Pinkston really unfortunately had to give up the game of football. It looks like he probably won’t be back. He had a re-occurrence of blood clots.
So blood clots are really a rare thing, and when you’re looking at young athletes you think, ah, come on, you know this is something that occurs in older people, generally. But we’ve seen just in our community at least 3 cases of young athletes in the last year or 2 that had blood clots, and significant blood clots where they go from the legs to the lungs. That’s called a pulmonary embolism.
One of the really important things is we need to know what are those things that can cause serious effects, even death. A PE, a pulmonary embolism, is something that can cause death.
So, these people feel like a charley horse or a cramping in their legs, but it’s a little bit of a different pattern. They have a lot of warmth to it, and other things.
Then if they start having any respiratory complaints, like problems breathing, coughing and problems catching their breath, they really need to be studied and make sure they don’t have blood clots, like in the Jason Pinkston (former Cleveland Browns player) case, like in the Anderson Varejão (Cleveland Cavaliers) case.
There are a couple of examples, and we’ve had a couple of other local college athletes and other things where there have been blood clots, rather than just run-of-the-mill cramping.
HORNER: Well, that’s interesting. I just had a cramp in my hamstring the other day, but we have to be aware of other symptoms, right?
DR. CONGENI: There are other things that occur with blood clots for sure. And so, you know, rapid heart rate, passing out, discoloration is really a different thing that you’ll see. A bluish or a pale discoloration with it is a blood clot, instead of a routine cramp.
Yes, this is the time of year we’re gonna get tons of cramps. When I go out to 2-a-days later this week, that’s all I’m gonna hear about. A lot of kids are getting them over and over again. I mean, you know, by definition, coaches are having athletes exercise to fatigue. This is the time of year you’re trying to push your teams to get ‘em in the best shape they can be in. All over this town every kid is exercising to pretty near fatigue.
When you do that the muscles after a period of time are just gonna give out, and they’re gonna lock up and cramp up. And so, you know, the routine is daily weighs to see if you’re losing too much weight. Make sure that you’re keeping up with your fluids. Look at the meds. Avoid the supplements. There are certain supplements that add to the muscle cramping.
So, 99 percent of the time it’s gonna be the routine muscle cramping from pushing your body to muscle fatigue. But, there are those rare ones, and just beware of things like blood clots that have a totally different picture. And people that are having recurring cramping and it just doesn’t seem right, get them to a medical doctor or somebody to evaluate them.
HORNER: Just for our parents side, because as Joe mentioned, there are so many young athletes out there right now with the soccer, the volleyball, cross country and football practices, these kids come home with cramps.
Is water still the best, or are these sports drinks — the Powerades, the Gatorades — are those equally as good? But, stay away from the energy drinks, right?
DR. CONGENI: So, if you are exercising over an hour, which the vast majority of these late summer practices are over an hour, it isn’t a bad thing to have some electrolytes in there, too. So, you’re exactly right.
Energy drinks? No, that’s caffeine.
HORNER: That’s sucking the water out.
DR. CONGENI: [Laughter] That’s actually sucking the water out. It’s dehydrating our athletes more.
Uh, creatine? Sucking the water out — I like the term you’re using — and dehydrating kids more. Protein supplements? Sucking the water out. Alcohol? Definitely dehydrating.
On the side of hydrating well, water and good hydration before you play, but probably electrolytes isn’t a bad thing and lightly salting your meals.
Now, what about when we go to pickle juice and things like that? Well, that’s later on after kids have been cramping already, but salting your foods, making sure that you have some electrolytes, making sure you have some potassium, even calcium is a big one here, too.
Now people are even saying vitamin D in calcium. So, making sure you’re drinking enough milk, yogurt and cheese and things like that with vitamin D and calcium [helps kids avoid dehydration]. So, probably not just water alone with these kids practicing over an hour a day.
Weigh yourself daily. See how much weight you’re losing. Make sure you’re keeping up with hydration. Stretch your muscles beforehand and then also keep an eye on the electrolytes and stay away from the supplements that, as you said, suck the fluid out of the muscles.
HORNER: It was good stuff you had there, Joe, as far as the diet. When these kids come home from practicing all day, yogurt’s not a bad idea to have on the dinner table, you also mentioned a glass of milk. What other good things should parents maybe cook when these kids are out working hard?
DR. CONGENI: Well, it’s a good time to replenish carbohydrates. It’s a good time for protein replenishment, too. And, they might need to sneak in more than 3 meals a day, too.
This is a time that they’re really gonna be burning up a lot of calories and … the 3 meals a day are necessary. This is a time you can’t get away with skipping breakfast, which so many athletes do; skip breakfast and they’re down to 2 meals a day. This is 3 meals a day with probably snacks in between. And then, make sure you’re hydrating at every meal.
Remember, we say it all the time, your thirst mechanism is not going to keep up enough. [Also], we’ve gone back to actually [stating] salting the foods is beneficial.