How to Deal with Leg Cramps While Diving

Last Updated: March 21, 2022

Hydration, good diet, exercise, and stretching are your best tools for dealing with leg cramps while diving. 

Preparing for a dive can be a long and involved process, but once it’s time to dive nothing can ruin the excitement. Except for maybe leg cramps. With as much as you use your legs during a regular dive, leg cramps can be debilitating.

To keep these annoying cramps from getting the best of you, it’s important to both prevent leg cramps and know how to deal with them once they’ve started.

Let’s look a little deeper into the issue of leg cramps while diving and what you can do the handle them.

Tips for Preventing Leg Cramps While Diving

If you want to avoid leg cramps, it’s important to know the underlying cause. Almost all divers will experience leg cramps at least once or twice in their diving careers, but the causes can differ from diver to diver.

The most common causes of leg cramps while diving are:

  • Dehydration
  • Lack of stretching
  • Magnesium or potassium deficiency
  • Overexertion and muscle fatigue
  • Fins that don’t fit properly

1. Dehydration

Dehydration causes many ailments during physical activities. There’s a reason the cure for so many maladies is just “drink more water”.

Without adequate hydration, our muscles cramp and tire out very easily. The day before a dive and the day of the dive, drink plenty of water and have some on the boat to drink once the dive is finished. 

2. Lack of Stretching

Just like a runner needs to prepare for a race, divers need to prepare for a dive by stretching. Adequately stretching your legs before entering the water will ensure that your muscles are warmed up and ready for exertion.

Focus your stretches on your calves, upper legs, and feet. Since all the muscles in your legs are connected, missing even one muscle group can cause cramping.

3. Magnesium or Potassium Deficiency

Magnesium and potassium are necessary when undertaking physically draining activities like diving, but knowing if you’ve had enough of these two vitamins is difficult.

A daily multivitamin and a banana before a dive can help ward off leg cramps by making sure you have enough magnesium and potassium. 

4. Overexertion and Muscle Fatigue

Have you ever found a diving spot so interesting and new that you want to go back the very next day? You’re not alone, but diving too much, or undertaking another strenuous activity before scuba diving can cause leg cramps because of overexertion and muscle fatigue.

We all have our limits, so give your body adequate rest between draining activities to prevent leg cramps.

5. Fins That Don’t Fit Properly

putting on fins

The foot pockets of your fins should not be too tight, as that can restrict movement and blood flow. Make sure your toes feel comfortable and have enough room that you can wiggle them a bit. The strap of your fin should not bite into the back of your heel either.

It’s important to check their stiffness as well. If the fins are too stiff, your calf muscles can get fatigued and overexerted from the finning action and trigger leg cramps.

Having bad fitting fins are usually a problem if you are renting them. So, consider to get fins of your own instead.

Why Do I Get Cramps and Fatigue After Diving?

Cramps and fatigue go hand in hand, and unfortunately, they can’t always be avoided. If you’re feeling extra sore or tired after a dive, chances are it’s because of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, or overexertion. 

While some studies suggest that dehydration isn’t related to cramping while diving, being adequately hydrated before and after any physical activity, diving included, can help you avoid a load of problems. Proper hydration is important for any sort of exercise.

Electrolyte imbalance is also to blame for a lot of cramping and tiredness after diving. When scuba diving first became popular, some divers would take salt tablets to make sure their electrolytes were properly balanced, but this isn’t recommended anymore.

These days, electrolyte drinks and gels have replaced salt tablets, so it’s a good idea to have some of both on the boat after a dive.

Fatigue and cramps can also occur when the diver has pushed themselves too hard, sometimes without even realizing it. There’s a reason divers train in pools: getting too fatigued while diving in open water is dangerous.

To avoid overexerting yourself, practice your diving regularly so you know your body and its limitations.

Relieving Cramps While Diving

relieving cramp while diving

If your legs start to cramp while underwater, it’s important to know how to relieve the cramp as soon as possible so you can make the swim back to the boat.

Most leg cramps start in the calf, and these are the most debilitating for divers. When your leg cramps, pull the top of your fin towards your chest with your hand, holding it there until the cramp recedes. 

This is the same as pointing your toes up during a charlie horse cramp on land, but because you’re wearing fins, you’ll need to pull up with your hand instead of just pointing your toes.

You may still feel fatigued, or like swimming is more difficult afterward, so if you have a leg cramp, it’s best to end your dive even if it seems to disappear after stretching. Diving can be dangerous when your legs are in pain, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Final Thoughts

Leg cramps are extremely inconvenient, and sometimes even scary, during diving. Stretching, hydration and a proper diet and exercise regimen can prevent leg cramps when you’re diving.

If you end up cramping during a dive no matter which precautions you take, stretch your leg by pulling the tip of your fin towards your chest and end your dive as soon as possible.

If you follow the tips in this article, leg cramps ruining your dives can be a thing of the past.

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