How To Prevent Leg Cramps When Scuba Diving

Leg CrampYou’re enjoying your dive watching a gentle whale shark feed on tiny plankton when all of a sudden you feel this excruciating pain in your leg. The more you try to move that leg the more it seizes into paralyzing immobility.  

In my article of How To Prevent Leg Cramps When Scuba Diving, I’ll tell you what causes them and some great tips on how to stop and prevent these painful cramps in your calves. Watch the video too!

Leg cramps can happen to any diver and it doesn’t matter what type of dive experience you have. Of course, leaving it unattended will only worsen the situation. Not only do you keep experiencing the pain, you will be limited to even swim through current which could cause you to be left behind from your dive group. It’ll be easy to lose focus and not pay attention to how deep you dive and even forget to monitor your air.

The occurrence of leg cramps is so frequent that most dive training organizations like PADI’s entry-level Open Water Dive Certification course will teach you how to remove that leg cramp.

What Is Leg Cramps

For divers, the cramp is mostly in the calf area, although you may experience cramps in your toes too.

Have you ever woken up with painful muscle contractions in your leg calf?  Sometimes the pain may last for a few seconds, other times it could go on for minutes. You’re in so much pain you can’t get back to sleep.  As you start massaging the muscles, you’ll probably notice a large lump under your skin and even feel your calf muscle that tightened up.

This is exactly what divers feel when they get cramps in their leg calf in their underwater world. When divers swim with fins they use a combination of muscles, like the muscles in the calf, hamstring and even the buttock muscles.

What Can Cause Leg Cramps When Diving

While the actual causes of cramps are sometimes not known, it may be invoked by certain activities like diving and snorkeling or by certain conditions. For divers and snorkelers, it can be:

  1. Dehydration
  2. Improper fitting fins
  3. Long dive breaks
  4. Low potassium and magnesium levels in your body

How To Prevent Leg And Toe Cramps

1) Stay Hydrated

Drinking Bottled Water

As you already know, water is essential for life. Our bodies are composed of 70% water and if we lose even 2% of this water, it means a 10% loss of our physical performance. Your muscles won’t perform as well which could lead to a variety of potential injuries.

Your body may be unable to function properly and for divers, this is a serious consideration when you’re underwater.  For instance, if your body is unable to remove the dissolved nitrogen in your bloodstream you could potentially succumb to Decompression Sickness.

A fine hydration balance is required for the fluids in your body along with a certain amount of salt to make your body function properly is extremely important.  Having a low level of salt in your body can cause muscle cramps.

Don’t go off crazily drinking gallons of water just before and during your dive vacation. Drinking too much water can be just as dangerous as not drinking enough. The main key is to drink enough water at regular intervals and trust your thirst because that feeling is there for a reason

2) Wear Fins That Fit Properly

Wearing fins or booties that are too tight can restrict movement and blood circulation.

Your toes should feel comfortable and not squished and you should be able to wiggle them too.

Check the stiffness of the fins. If it’s too stiff, your calf muscles can get tired and overexert itself from the finning action and trigger leg cramps. Make sure the strap at the back of the fin is not tight and is not putting pressure on your Achilles Heel.

When wearing booties, make sure they are not tight fitting.  

3) Stretches

Divers have to use certain muscles, mainly the upper and lower calf muscles and if you haven’t been diving for a while or have not been exercising those muscles, you may be more susceptible to leg cramps more than a frequent diver.

In your daily routine, it’s always a good idea to do some stretches. Before you go diving, do some leg and calf stretches on the beach or on the dive boat. Doing this will make a world of difference and prevent the dreaded calve or toe cramp.

4) Potassium and Magnesium

Deficiencies in your potassium or magnesium level can be a contributing factor for leg and toe cramps.

When I was living in the beautiful Turks & Caicos Islands, I used to have legs cramps in the middle of the night. I quickly discovered that the hot weather and sweat was depleting the natural salt from my body and so I started taking potassium along with drinking more water and exercising. No more cramps on land and during my dives. 

5) Exercise The Muscles

Leg Stretches On The Beach

There are exercises you can do to strengthen and maintain the muscles in your calves and feet to build flexibility and mobility. Here are a couple of exercises for your calves and toes:

Toe-Pull Stretches

  • Fold a skipping rope in half. Sit on the floor, stretch both your legs out in front of you. Loop the rope under the right foot and use the rope to draw the foot and toe closer towards your body. Hold for 5 seconds. Slowly lower the foot to the ground. Repeat with the other foot.

Standing Heel and Toe Raises

  • Standing straight, keep your knees straight and feet about shoulder-width apart. Keep your toes on the ground. Lift your heels off the ground high enough so you can feel the muscles tighten at the back of your leg. Lower and repeat.

Upper Calf Stretch

This is one of my favorite calf stretches.

Stand in front of a wall, arms distance away. Lean forward into the wall by extending your arms out to the wall to brace yourself. Do a lunge position by putting one leg forward with the knee bent. The other leg goes back with the knee straight keeping the heel down. It’s important to keep your back straight. The last step is to move your hips forward toward the wall. This will give you a good upper calf stretch. Maintain this position for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.

Lower Calf Stretch

This stretch will help your lower calf. Using the same lunge position as referenced above and still keeping your hands on the wall, bend the back knee and maintain the position for 20-30 seconds.

How To Fix The Leg Cramp Underwater

When you get a leg cramp underwater, it’s usually in the back of your leg. The best and simplest underwater technique is the one you learned in your entry level Open Water Dive Certification.

  • Bend your knee and raise that leg up in front of you.
  • Grab hold of the toe tip part of the fin.
  • Extend and stretch out that leg as far as you possibly can.
  • Massage the calf with your other hand.
  • Hold that position until the cramp goes away.

If you are unable to remove the cramp and need assistance, get the attention of your dive buddy.

Remember to stay focused, and breathe slowly, deeply and continuously.

Once the cramp subsides, continue the dive and swim slowly because that same muscle may have the tendency to cramp up again. If the cramping continues, the best thing to do is let your tour guide know with a hand signal and you and your buddy make your way back to the boat.

If you have experienced leg cramps during your dives, what did you do to remove that pain? If you have any dive stories you would like to share or give advice on certain exercises that work well I would like to hear from you. If you have any questions or comments, please put them in the Comment Box below. 

Thank you for reading!


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