Muscle cramps are quite common amongst students and even seasoned divers, yet they can be easily prevented and in the case you or someone else gets one, they can be remedied swiftly.
Why do we get cramps?
During a regular topside workout, you feel the heat, you feel the sweat, those elements make you realize - eh, I probably should drink up. However when submerged there is no sweating or true heat feeling, when you combine this with the workout intensity that you are subjecting your body to, you have a recipe for quickly becoming dehydrated to the point of getting cramps.
How to prevent cramps?
Stretching before a dive is always recommend but you can start preparing for your dive in other ways, like eating foods rich in Potassium. High Potassium (staying away from dairy products to avoid equalization issues) foods include – just to name a few:
- Prune juice
Keep in mind that most muscle cramps are caused by dehydration (lack of water), so keep hydrated!
Additionally, your muscles need calcium in order to relax. So here's a few high calcium (non-dairy) foods divers can use to help prevent muscle cramps.
The Banana Myth
Some people are superstitious about Bananas on a boat - a myth that sources it’s roots far way back to the age of slavery where rotten bananas could be the source of illnesses on ships - to the point that some captain will throw a fit if one is brought aboard. So eat your banana before boarding the boat... you've been warned!!
How can I relieve cramps?
In the unfortunate event that you would get a cramp, first we have to see where that cramp happens, is it at the surface or is it underwater?
At the surface:
Lay on your back while grabbing the fin of the leg with the cramp around the mid-point and then extend that leg and pull the fin towards you to stretch the calf. Hold that position for a bit then release, that will alleviate the pain.
Since we rely on a limited supply of oxygen and mostly on our legs when underwater, think about using body parts that are mostly untaxed - our arms and hands - and start using them to propel you towards the surface, ideally without panicking, and once surfaced, tend to the cramp as mentioned above.
Make sure to grab the appropriate foods and to keep hydrated to avoid those nasty cramps!
The following posts may also be of interest.
- Should I take a Freediving Course?