Cramping like Randle's common but unpredictable

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 31, 2013 

  • Next game

    Mississippi St. at No. 15 Kentucky

    When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8

    TV: SEC Network

These are the elements of a Kentucky basketball horror story.

Julius Randle hobbles off the court not once, not twice, but three times early in the second half. He leaves for good with 11:01 left in the game. Doctors try in vain to alleviate cramps by pumping three IVs of fluid into his body. UK's most productive player still cannot return to the action.

Though Kentucky beat Louisville, Randle's absence surely unnerved fans.

Ben Kibler shrugged.

Kibler, an orthopedic surgeon at the Lexington Clinic/Sports Medicine Center, said that what we know about Randle as an MIA on Saturday falls well within what's known about cramping.

Quite a bit is known about "such a common problem," Kibler said. What people who study such things don't know is precisely why a muscle might cramp at a particular time.

Most commonly, a muscle cramps because of dehydration. But insufficient potassium or sodium can also cause cramping. Some tennis players eat bananas, which are rich in potassium, during breaks in an effort to ward off cramping.

Muscle weakness or "plain old fatigue" can also cause muscles to cramp, Kibler said.

Kibler noted cases of a person suffering leg cramps because of walking flat-footed. Arch supports alleviated the cramping. Athletes with a heritage linked to the Mediterranean region — tennis star Pete Sampras, for example — seem pre-disposed to cramping, Kibler said.

Cramping is a good thing.

"Muscles cramp to protect themselves," Kibler said, "because they know if you keep on playing, then you're eventually going to tear something."

The Louisville game marked at least the second time this season that Randle has suffered from cramping. UK Coach John Calipari excused Randle from the news conference after UK played Michigan State in Chicago when the player complained about cramping.

Scott Pospichal, Randle's coach on the Texas Titans AAU team, said the player suffered from cramps a few times several years ago. Nothing out of the ordinary, he said.

"Playing the third game in one day, that can happen to you," he said. "That just kind of happens when you play a lot."

His AAU team's trainers tried to begin hydrating players a day or two before competition, Pospichal said.

Kibler would approve. He noted a study of tennis and soccer players several years ago said that 40 percent of participants entered competition not fully hydrated.

"You can't use thirst for a guideline on whether you're (sufficiently) hydrated," Kibler said.

Gatorade was invented in the 1960s as a means to prevent cramping. The University of Florida football team suffered from cramping, which led to a drink that contains sodium and potassium.

Yet, some people simply are more prone to cramping. As for why, "nobody knows for sure," Kibler said. "There are a whole lot of different opinions about why that goes on."

Kibler also found nothing odd about Randle playing so hard and so well in the first half against Louisville (17 points), and then cramping early in the second half after presumably resting and drinking fluids at halftime.

"Sometimes you're at a tipping point," Kibler said. "You sit and rest. The muscles get a little stiff, a little tight. You go out and play, that really sets off the spasm."

Soccer players typically cramp early in the second half, he said. For the player susceptible to cramping, the need to replenish fluids takes longer than a halftime.

"Once a player cramps in the middle of competition, it's very difficult to treat it right there," Kibler said. "... It just doesn't work that fast. Muscles take more time to recover than that."

To replenish fluids in a muscle that's cramped "usually takes a couple hours," Kibler said, "At least."

So it would not be alarming if a player didn't hop up and charge back into a game after receiving IVs of fluid.

"It's like trying to drive a car without oil in the engine," Kibler said of cramping. "Eventually, the cylinders will freeze up if they don't have fuel or fluid."


Next game

Mississippi St. at No. 15 Kentucky

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8

TV: SEC Network

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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