How To Deal With A Cramp While Diving

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Jon Milnes

Cramps can be an unwanted companion on dives. Here’s what to do to fix – and avoid – them

Dive for any amount of time, and you’re likely to have experienced it at least once: cramps!

The powerful, painful death grip in a muscle that leaves you down for the count until at lets go of you again.

But why do we get a cramp while diving, and what can we do about them?

What is a cramp?

A cramp is an involuntary, powerful muscle contraction that seizes a muscle or a group of muscles and causes them to lock up in the contracted (shortened) position. This causes whatever limb or joint the muscle in question operates, to flex to its bent position and stay there while the cramp lasts.

Cramps can happen in any muscle in the body, but are more likely in the muscles in the extremities, i.e. arms, legs, and feet.

Cramps can be caused by a host of things, including overexertion, cold, and dehydration.

The Cramp While Diving

In scuba diving, we usually experience cramps in the posterior chain of our legs: the calf, hamstrings, and buttock muscles.

This is because these muscles are particularly taxed during swimming with fins, and if we’re not used to it, overexertion is likely.

Avoid overexertion. Learn these Finning Techniques – How to get the most propulsion from your kick.

Overexertion on the legs most likely lead to cramps
Overexertion on the legs most likely lead to cramps
Photo by: Dudarev Mikhail

And because cramps happen during exertion, this means that cramps in the legs often happen during the dive, under water.

But there are ways to both fix it if it happens, and to reduce the likelihood of it recurring.

The fix – stretching

If a cramp hits, the best thing to do is to stretch it out.

As cramps usually happen in the rear of the leg, the technique in diving is pretty simply:

  • Raise your leg up in front of you;
  • Grasp the tip of your fin;
  • And stretch your leg as far as you can.


Maintain this stretch for as long as needed until the cramp subsides.

Breathe slowly, and maintain your depth (if you’re underwater).

Once the cramp subsides, continue the dive if possible, but slow down a bit, as the muscle is more susceptible to cramps once it has occurred once. If the cramp keeps coming back, end the dive.

It is best to end the dive if cramps keep repeating
It is best to end the dive if cramps keep repeating
Photo by: oksana.perkins

Most dive organizations have this exercise as part of their entry level courses, but it’s worth practicing from time to time.

Avoiding it – strength

One way to avoid cramps is to build and maintain strength in the affected muscles.

This can be done through traditional strength training, or by training swimming with fins either in the ocean or a pool.

If you have a specific trouble area, such as the calf, that keeps cramping up repeatedly, see a personal trainer or physical therapist to learn which exercises can help strengthen the affected muscle.

Training swimming with fins in a pool helps avoid cramps
Training swimming with fins in a pool helps avoid cramps
Photo by: ziggysofi

Avoiding it – flexibility

Another way to avoid cramps is to increase the range of motion of the muscles by increasing flexibility.

This can be done in a number of ways, from old-fashioned gym class-type stretches to pilates and yoga.

Again, if you have a specific muscle that gives you repeated troubles, talk to a physical therapists to learn what stretches would be best to do.

Here’s more on Diving Fitness: Training for Scuba Diving.

Cramps aren’t dangerous in themselves, but a fierce cramp can mean you need to end a dive prematurely. And some divers have been known to either sink deeper than planned, or shoot for the surface, due to a cramp, both of which can be problematic.

So practice your cramp release technique, and prepare your muscle for diving to avoid them altogether.

Have you experienced cramps while diving? What did you do to release them?

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