There is nothing quite as disruptive when you’re swimming peacefully along, enjoying the serenity of the underwater world, at one with nature, and BAM! A serious cramp hits you in the arch of your foot, your calf, your thigh. A single cramp can send shockwaves of pain through the immediate area, and can even be debilitating. You can’t just shoot to the surface from depth due to the decompression risks, but you can’t just accept limited mobility and pain for the rest of your dive, so what can you do? Don’t panic, diver — help is on the way! There are a few simple techniques that can help you deal with cramps while you’re on a dive, and also prevent them from happening regularly.
You may have guessed that physiology is a component of cramp prevention, as the functions of our various organs and body parts have a direct connection with our immediate and long-term health. Although there are varying opinions on whether there is a direct correlation between hydration and cramping, anecdotal studies abound in which a person suffering from cramps during or after physical activity benefits from increased hydration. Medical experts also cite mineral deficiencies as a cause for cramping, specifically sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. All of these minerals are electrolytes, necessary for controlling the fluid balance within your body. Try to get recommended quantities of these minerals into your diet through food, rather than popping a pill every day. Though it might be more convenient, there is no substitute for the original source!
The most important thing to do at the onset of a cramp is relax. It may seem counterintuitive to the way your body wants to respond, but try to really concentrate. Alert your dive buddy, so that he or she can assist you through the process. It will help if you are able to sit on the seabed while you try to work out the cramp.
- Calf Cramp: Extend the leg with the cramp in front of you, and pull the tip of your fin toward your chest. Point to the area of the cramp so your dive buddy can massage it if you can’t do it yourself.
- Foot Cramp: Take your foot out of the fin (and dive boot if you have one on). Pull your toes toward you, and have your dive buddy rub vertically along your foot muscles, not across — rubbing across the muscle can worsen the pain.
- Thigh Cramp: These kinds of cramps are not as frequent, but can be more severe and longer lasting. Stretch your leg in front of you, and you or your dive buddy rub in the direction of the muscle; again, not across. If you are still experiencing pain, you may have to call the dive. After the dive, use a heating pad to soothe the muscle. Some people find relief from gently rolling a cylindrical object, like a rolling pin, up and down the leg in the direction of the muscle. You will want the muscle to heal before diving again.
SCUBA diving is an activity that defies our bodies’ natural mechanisms, so it is important that prepare our bodies for the challenge. Maintaining an average degree of fitness is instrumental in ensuring ability. Eat well, and try to stay hydrated. Don’t get liquored up the night before a dive, and make sure you get adequate rest. A body that’s healthy and always ready to dive will never cramp your style!