Everyone who loves to swim in the lake or sea knows this fear: What if you’re far from shore and have a muscle spasm? FITBOOK asked an expert from the DLRG how to avoid a cramp and what to do in an emergency to relieve cramps.
According to figures from the German Life Saving Society (DLRG), 299 people died from drowning last year, according to the data institute “Statista”.1 It was not clear from the figures whether convulsions were among the victims. However, the primary fear of many swimmers is to get stuck too far from the bank, especially with a muscle spasm in the calf, but also in the thigh or in the fingers. How to avoid cramping while swimming and what to do in an emergency? FITBOOK interviewed Martin Holzhause, DLRG Press Director.
What really happens when you have a muscle spasm?
If there is a sudden, unintended and usually painful tension of a muscle or group of muscles, this is referred to as a muscle spasm.2 These cramps usually occur during or after significant physical exertion, such as sports activities. Although these muscle spasms are “benign” and do not indicate a serious condition, they can create a dangerous situation, especially when swimming. If you’re not a good swimmer and develop a muscle spasm in your calf, thigh, or foot, you will find it difficult to stay afloat. In addition, impotence in such a situation can lead to panic. It’s very important to keep calm first and foremost, explains Martin Holzhaus of the DLRG. Because the muscle contraction usually subsides after a few seconds and at the latest after a few minutes.
Stress and cold water are special risk factors for swimmers that lead to cramps.
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What should I do if I have a cramp while swimming?
“If you feel a muscle spasm, the swimmer should remain calm and try to swim ashore,” recommends DLRG Press Director Martin Holzhause. If this does not work, the spasm can also be relieved in the water by stretching the muscles. By the way, muscle contraction can last a few seconds, but in rare cases it can also last a few minutes. “Tension and relaxation are repeated alternately until the spasm has subsided and the pain has subsided,” explains Martin Holzhaus. In addition, the expert offers the following tips for solving various cramps that occur when swimming:
- leg cramp: Lie on your back, grab the affected toes and pull them toward your body. The free hand presses the thigh just above the patella until the leg is straightened.
- thigh spasm Lie on your back, grab the bottom of your leg by the ankle and press it against your thigh.
- finger spasm: Fingers should be alternately closed into a fist and extended with a jerk.
The expert recommends leaving the water immediately after the spasm resolves, as the spasm may recur. On the floor, you can massage the cramped muscle so that it warms up and the blood flows well. In addition, Holzhause warns: “You should not swim on the same day!”
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How to avoid a spasm in the water?
According to the expert, people who eat healthy food do not experience cramps. Otherwise, a magnesium deficiency can lead to cramps. With a balanced diet, this should not happen. Nuts, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, cocoa, sesame, and flaxseeds, for example, are particularly rich in magnesium,” explains Holzhaus. An adequate supply of fluid and sodium chloride (table salt) also protects against cramps.
But it’s not just about healthy eating. A DLRG spokesperson recommends: “Especially in the water, you should avoid straining your muscles.” So if you go to a lake or sea on your own, you should not go as far as your personal performance, but keep your muscles and strength.
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Additionally, lower water temperatures can trigger cramps as they relax the muscles. It is also recommended to swim alone in water that is not very cold. In any case, you should always have an inflatable swim buoy (a safety buoy) with you when swimming in open water. Attached to the body with a strap, it allows you to hold on in an emergency and rest on the water.