Suffering foot and leg cramps in water is a painful experience and can be extremely dangerous in some cases. This website contains many blogs about snorkeling. But, this one highlights the dangers of having cramps while swimming.
Swimmers and snorkelers can suffer intense pain from a leg cramp or calf muscle spasms. Often, it occurs without any warning, and forces an abrupt halt to all in-water activities.
So, what causes foot cramps when swimming? There are several simple reasons, and some complex medical causes, why snorkelers get muscle cramping. But, inefficient flipper kicking and improper fitting swim fins are among the most common factors.
Causes of Muscular Spasm
Cramping is the sudden involuntary contraction of a muscle or muscles – resulting in sharp pain. In most cases, the abrupt twinging spasms are ‘relatively’ harmless.
Typical causes of foot cramps while swimming include:
- A strain
- Mineral depletion (lack of potassium, calcium, magnesium)
- Inadequate blood supply
- Spinal nerve compression (lumbar stenosis)
- Rigorous exercise
- Overusing a muscle
- Narrowing of the arteries (arteriosclerosis)
- Holding a position for a prolonged period of time
Calf and Foot Cramps While Swimming
An unprepared swimmer or snorkeler in deep water could drown as a result of a sudden and debilitating pang. The pain usually occurs in the calf area of the lower leg.
Even so, it can occur in the arch of the foot (called foot arch cramps), or in the hamstring. That is the muscle group running from the back of the knee to the buttocks.
Note: Muscle cramping in water is dangerous and fatal in some circumstances.
Reasons Snorkelers Get Cramps when Swimming
Follow these snorkeling tips and learn how to help prevent severe hyperkinesia. More important, learn what to do and how to fix aching or excessive leg cramps in water while you are swimming or engaged in scuba diving activities.
Make sure your snorkeling flippers fit properly. Wearing fins too tightly on your feet can result in a decrease of blood flow to your foot. It is important to be aware that foot pocket sizes also vary according to the manufacturer (like shoes).
We see some common mistakes when people with extremely large or small feet try to buy products from our snorkeling shop online. They consider choosing the next higher or lower size as a makeshift solution.
Foot arch cramps are quite common for swimmers who use full foot fins – especially if you have a high arch in your foot. The foot pocket portion may cause undue stress on the muscles in the arch of your feet. It can put excess downward pressure on the top of your feet.
The general guide is to ensure that most of your foot arch rests inserted inside of the foot pocket after adjusting the strap. If the fit is too big or too small it may also cause muscle cramp in foot arches.
Furthermore, diving fins with a very stiff blade may cause cramping in the arch, through the hamstring, or in the calf muscles. The leg muscles would need to work much harder to move the blades through the water. It would be like trying to kick water with two flat, heavy, boards strapped to your feet.
Even so, kicking with a floppy fin blade which is too flexible may also attribute to muscle cramping and arch spasms.
The trouble comes from overworking your leg muscles to produce enough power to move through the water.
Blade fins which are too long may also cause problems. It depends on the stiffness of the blades and whether you are using a paddle fin design or split fin technology.
What causes cramps in the arch of your foot? In most cases, a poor fin-kicking technique will be a contributing factor to leg cramping and excessive muscle spasms.
Forceful, excessive, and continual kicking almost guarantees some kind of a strain in the leg or foot area. For example, beginners and novice snorkelers are prone to bicycle kicking or using an improper ‘finning’ style.
Most cramping occurs while swimming at high speeds. It comes from plantar flexing your ankles for speed and power. That means pointing your toes like a ballerina.
It is an unnatural position for your ankles. This may cause tightness, tension, and cramping in your calf. It is better to slow down – allowing your ankles to relax – rather than holding them in a tight position.
Treatments for Muscle Cramping
How to prevent foot cramps while swimming? Snorkelers who are wearing fins can also use them to relieve a calf cramp or muscle spasm in the foot arch area.
Simply grab the tip of the fin blade and pull it towards your body to stretch out the leg muscle (e.g. the opposite of how it cramped in the first place).
This technique is similar to bending forward at the waist to touch the toes while exercising. One of the group members can assist you if you are following the snorkeling buddy system for in-water activities.
Electrolytes and Hydration
Among the common culprits of calf cramping are improper nutrition and poor hydration. To many, it may seem unnecessary to hydrate while in the water.
But, you are still perspiring while swimming and losing body fluids – especially in hot climates. Always hydrate before, during, and particularly after your snorkel swim. This will reduce the likelihood of getting muscle contractions.
Suffering regular calf cramping may also be an indication that your body has a level imbalance of magnesium, potassium, or calcium.
So, taking electrolyte replacements, such as the Dextro energy zero calories electrolyte drink, and eating bananas or green leafy vegetables should be part of any rigorous workout. Keep your body topped up with nutrients and eat dairy products (e.g. eggs and milk) for additional calcium.
Body Deconditioning Issues
Underlying health issues, or being out of shape with a lack of muscle tone, also contribute towards many of the medical causes for muscle cramping.
Snorkelers and swimmers need to understand that even though snorkeling should be relaxing, it is also a form of physical exercise and muscular exertion.
Deconditioning occurs when you lose fitness or muscle tone – and especially through a lack of regular exercise. It can result in weak muscles and poor stamina or endurance.
Your body is less able to adequately respond to a sudden increase in exertive activity. It can result in micro tears in the muscle and a lack of oxygen.
Many people start swimming when they are out of shape. Most would consider it to be a reduced-joint-impact exercise. Nonetheless, it is best not to rush it and build up the length and intensity of your swimming sessions over time.
Consider adding a little weight training, brisk walks, and other aerobic activities to your routine. In time, this should improve your overall conditioning and physical fitness. As a result, it should reduce the likelihood of your body cramping in pain.
Tip: Read an informative article listing 9 walking exercise benefits for better health and overall fitness.