#1 Back Pain
Health care provider
How to stop cramping
It's a balmy evening; you're in the pool. It's your first really good workout in a while. The coach gives you a kicking set and you take off. Suddenly, in the middle of the pool, your foot cramps! You are forced to stop and deal with your cramping foot.... And your workout had been going so well!
Many swimmers are plagued with cramping problems. Most commonly the feet or calves cramp, although the quadriceps or hamstrings also may occasionally be involved. The problem can occur whether or not one is in shape, but more commonly occur when people are getting back into shape. That is why we tend to see more people standing on the side of the lane, in agony, grabbing their feet or calves, during the early season in winter or in spring.
The most common causes for swimming-related cramps are the following:
Living in a warm, dry climate such as Southern California, we must be more conscientious about keeping our bodies adequately hydrated. This means drinking fluids before, during, and after our workouts. Our bodies continue to perspire while in the water. Some people lose more fluids than others, and, therefore also require more water.
As the muscles fatigue, there is an increased tendency for muscles to cramp. The exact mechanism of why this is so is still being debated in the scientific literature. Suffice it to say that anecdotally swimmers have reported fewer cramps as they get in better shape and when they incorporate a good stretching routine.
While most of us who eat properly are meeting the daily requirements for nutrients, including electrolytes, it is possible that our intake is not sufficient for the amount and type of exercise we perform. The most commonly implicated electrolytes are potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
These are the most common reasons most swimmers experience muscle cramps. Some people are more sensitive to cold water and find that it causes them to cramp. Aside from swimming in warmer water, it may help to do a more vigorous dry land warm up, including stretching, prior to swimming. Also, allow yourself time to acclimatize to the cold water by swimming at a moderate, consistent pace and not sprinting until your body has adapted to the cold.
Once the muscle is cramping, about the only things you can do is to stretch it and massage it until it relaxes and lets go. Some people find that icing the muscle helps as well.
It is important to remember that if leg cramps persist, one should definitely see a doctor. There may be some serious underlying disorder, such as vascular disorders and others, that may be causing the cramps. Those conditions can only be diagnosed with a serious workup.
© 2001-2005 #1 Back Pain Site, Dr. Rick Swartzburg, D.C. @ www.1backpain.com
© 2001-2013 #1 Back Pain Site, Dr. Rick Swartzburg, D.C. @ www.1backpain.com