How to treat leg cramps while swimming

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Leg cramps while swimming is caused by an inappropriate action of the plantar flexing in the foot. It happens when all the muscles of the leg form a stiff line from the calf going down to the toes and holding this position can result to cramping.

Leg cramps is also known as charley horse which happens suddenly, lasts for a few seconds to minutes and causes severe pain. Any muscle can spasm or cramp but it usually happens in the calf muscles in the lower area of the leg, the hamstrings or the muscles at the back of the thigh and quadriceps on the front of the thigh.

Cramp causes severe pain and forces a person to stop swimming without warning. Leg cramps can be dangerous especially when swimming far from the shore and in deep water. The affected person can be at high risk for drowning if he/she is an unprepared swimmer.

Causes of leg cramps while swimming

Leg cramps
Cramp causes severe pain and forces a person to stop swimming without warning.
  • Loss of electrolytes
  • Poor conditioning
  • Unnecessary tension such as plantar flexing which is an involuntary action that is unnatural and results to cramping.


  • Stop immediately or discontinue any activity that caused the leg cramps. Get out of the water as soon as possible. When out of the water, stretch and massage the affected area to make it relax. Stretching the muscles prevents it from remaining in the contracted or cramped position. Stretch the affected muscle for at least a few minutes until the leg cramps disappears and repeat the stretching position if cramping returns. Stretch the muscle by putting weight on the affected leg and then slightly bend the knee while the foot is flat on the floor. Another way is by facing a wall, stand a short distance away and then lean against the wall using the hands for support. Keep the affected leg straight and the foot and heel on the floor and lean the upper body close to the wall and stretch the muscle.
  • Apply heat on the affected leg using a warm towel or a heating pad. Heat improves circulation in the area, relaxes the muscles and lessens the pain.
  • Apply an ice pack on the affected area. Fill a plastic bag with ice cubes and add some water and wrap it with a damp towel and apply on the affected area. Avoid applying the pack directly on the skin to prevent frostbite and making the condition worse. If an ice pack is not available, a bag of frozen vegetables can be wrapped in a damp towel and used.


  • Proper stretching and warm-ups before swimming and complete a brief stretching routine after every swim to lessen the risk of leg cramps.
  • Drink plenty of fluids before and after a swim or workout. Consume electrolyte drinks and energy bars to replace lost nutrients while swimming.
  • Avoid swimming in cold water during workouts.
  • Massage the affected leg at least 2-3 times every day to promote proper blood circulation in the area


The material posted on this page for leg cramps is for learning purposes only. If you want to learn to manage muscle issues including leg cramps, register for a first aid course with a training provider near you.

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