Interesting observation, PT that the cramps never effect the arms. I also never get cramps on long walks, but I do on long swims. I get them normally, so often that my cool down is usually breast. That helps to flex my legs and release the cramping.
We spend most of our time with our feet in an "L" position, pushing off from a solid surface with a backward thrust. then we get in the water and change the whole pattern. We point our toes, move our thighs back and forth while relaxing from the knee down. Our legs get confused.
Our arms and hands do all sorts of differently shaped motions all the time so they adapt better. they arms get crampy from writing, typing and other unnatural motions, not swimming.
Just some thoughts on the subject.
I have been meaning to answer this for a while. I was having quite a problem with leg cramps and I found my solution. I had to write a research paper for a course I'm taking and I finally submitted it tonight so I have some good answers (I hope). If my answers are no good, I have some good links to share which might help too.
My problem was caused by a calcium deficiency. After putting up with cramps at every practice for 9 months and ingesting every known source of Potassium, I came across a table in my Chemistry text book that said Calcium deficiency resulted in muscle cramps and Potassium deficiency was responsible for muscle fatigue.
I actually didn't believe it right away and thought it might be a mistake. When I googled 'muscle cramps" months earlier, everything came up Potassium related. So I googled "calcium and Muscle cramps" this time. I was really suprised by the results.
Since deficiencies in both potassium and calcium ions can cause cramps, she should take a look at her diet and see if that is the cause. Three months before the cramps suddenly started, I went on a high protein/no dairy diet.
What I thought would be a good diet for an athlete was the worst thing I could have done. Some things block calcium from being absorbed and some cause it to be flushed out in your urine. Calcium by its nature is highly reactive, so it can be affected by so many other things in the body that makes it hard to absorb.
Overall, the excessive consumption of protein causes the depletion of calcium.
The links below have more detail.
here is something from the link:
Is it easy for the body to absorb calcium?
Many other factors influence the actual amount of calcium absorbed. When in need, the body absorbs calcium more effectively; therefore the greater the need and the smaller the dietary supply, the more efficient the absorption. Absorption is also increased during rapid periods of growth. Certain substances interfere with the absorption of calcium. When excess amounts of fat, protein or sugar combine with calcium an insoluble compound is formed which cannot be absorbed. Insufficient vitamin D intake or excess phosphorus and magnesium hinders the absorption of calcium. Oxalic acid found in chocolate, spinach, beet greens, swiss chard, soy beans, almonds, cashews, kale and rhubarb, when combined with calcium make another insoluble compound which may form into stones in the kidney or gall bladder. A typical diet should not cause this to happen. Large amounts of phytic acid present in unleavened grains may also inhibit absorption by the body. Other interfering factors include lack of exercise, physical and emotional stress, excitement, depression and too rapid a flow of food through the intestinal tract. Even moderate exercise encourages absorption.
Drugs affecting absorption include caffeine, diuretics, fatty acids, fibre oxalates, glucocorticoids, fluoride, Mylanta, protein, thyroxine.
[Cortisol (or hydrocortisone) is the most important human glucocorticoid]
[Oxalate-rich plants include Other edible plants that contain significant concentrations of oxalate include—in decreasing order—star fruit (carambola), black pepper, parsley, poppy seed, amaranth, spinach, chard, beets, cocoa, chocolate, most nuts, most berries, fishtail palms, New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides) and beans]
What symptoms come with a deficiency of calcium?
Calcium deficiencies are wide spread in human society with only 1/3 to ˝ of the necessary requirements being consumed. One of the first signs of a deficiency is a nervous affliction called tetany, which is characterised by muscle cramps, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs.
Other people who may be at risk for deficiencies are those who use antacids that contain aluminium; those who are alcohol drinkers; those on diets that are low calorie, high protein, or high fibre; those who are lactose intolerant; those who use cortisone; women who are pregnant and those who are basically inactive. Moderate cases of calcium deficiency may lead to cramps, joint pains, heart palpitations, increased cholesterol levels, slow pulse rates, insomnia, impaired growth, excessive irritability or nerves, muscle cramps, brittle nails, eczema and numbness of the arms and or legs.
This was also interesting:
Americans, whose calcium intake is among the highest in the world, also have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis. In any given population, the greater the intake of protein, the more common and more severe the incidence of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition caused by a number of factors, the most important of which is excess dietary protein. Low-protein diets create a positive calcium balance, and high-protein diets create a negative calcium balance. https://www.msu.edu/~corcora5/food/vegan/calcium+protein.html
However, protein also increases the body's need for calcium by increasing calcium excretion. Excess protein in the diet is used by the body for energy, just like fats and carbohydrates. However, as protein is burned for energy, it produces a chemical called sulfate, which the body excretes through the kidneys. Sulfate increases the excretion of calcium.
here are some other good links I used:
Hope that helps.....
So I was swimming today for mild taper/final week prep for a 5k. (the same 5k I had thigh area cramping last year for 2 miles). I was going to do 2500M at a moderate pace set and felt better than ever - piece of cake until at 2400M - bam - charlie horse. I went from 100% confidence to 10% in an instance (10% only because maybe the walls have something to do with it).
So from what I have read here either heed or pickle juice seem like the best bet. I'm leaning towards pickle juice. So do I buy a jar of dill pickles and just slam 2 ozs of the juice right before the race? The statistical evidence of Jim's article looks encouraging so I want to try it.
I'd also like to second the suggestion to use breaststroke as an on-the-spot remedy. I don't tend to get calf cramps, but I did recently while doing a 2.7 mile open water swim. When I felt the cramps coming on, I switched to breaststroke, doing maybe about 20 or so strokes, kicking as hard as I could. It nipped the cramping right in the bud, and I didn't have to do it a second time.
I've been busy with work and keeping up my swimming - so forums and the like have taken the hit.
I will come back and take a look at your links and look forward to reading the stuff on calcium deficiency. Thank you SwimmerLady. It'll be interesting to see what it says and about amounts.
I have been put on mineral supplements by my Dr. to try to help me with my calve cramping. It has helped, I don't know how much more calcium I can or should eat. I'm currently taking 1260mg of citracal. I also drink 10oz of milk after work out w/ a Carnation instant breakfast thrown in and usually a cheese stick during the day. I also eat 2 bowls of cereal before leaving for the pool in the morning, so I think I get a lot of calcium. I've recently read a report in a nutrition magazine about other health issues with too much calcium...damned if you do and damned if you don't! If I find it I'll post the study it referenced. They want me back in to draw blood and do chemistry, again - the prescription potassium ran out and I called in to have the prescription renewed.
I tried the pickle juice. Man - what a way to make sure you're awake - pound 2 oz of Clauson's pickle juice somewhere around 2500 yards! I don't know if it helped or would have helped. I found that it caused acid reflux and that wasn't worth it.
I was using creatine monohydrate as a suppliment. I did end up deciding that that was exacerbating the cramping issue. When I looked into it again I found a siting by a chiropractor that was using creatine. He noticed that he was having leg cramps on his 2 mile running sprints. He'd never had leg cramping problems before. He cut out the creatine and the cramping went away. He went back on the creatine and they came back.
I've been off of the creatine for about a month. I still have cramping, especially when I put on the fins and do a big kicking set. So, I don't do much kicking now!
I haven't found a cure, but I can't or won't stop swimming. I want to break into the 52 seconds for my 100 free short course, yards. My goals are 52 seconds at 52 and my daughter's challenged me to swim to Seattle from Medford...425 miles for the calendar year. So I will keep stretching, swimming and looking for something to help - it really is all leg for me. Still calf mostly and sometimes a hamstring or quad. Weird since I'm a very upper body biased sprinter that I don't get any arm or other muscle group cramps.
Past my bedtime now.
If I do a hard effort run, for the next serveral days I can always count on a lower extremity cramp or lock-out during the back half of my swim. The cramps can be quite painful - lol, but sometimes it's painless and the muscle just contracts thereby locking it's respective joint (calf, hamstring).
I understand dehydration or lack of mineral salts result in cramping. But in my case whether mechanism is same or not, I'm certain it's just endurance and fatigue related. And since my diet is full of nutrients, there probably isn't anything I can take that is not on the ped list that will help except maybe a day off.
One thing interesting, the green iguana requires a diet rich in calcium obtained from plants while UVA is being absorbed through the skin, however oxalate rich foods block this process. Probably has absolutely nothing to do with swimming cramps, just thought it was interesting
I do Tri's and have had severe cramps in my calves and Hams during the swim and hard swim workouts. I started using a product called Sport Legs. It's mostly calcium and has really helped me. You can get it at GNC and similar stores.
I keep telling my coaches, "I am a sprinter" and "they keep saying you swim short races, but that is not the same thing." - Some Girl