Home >> Swimming-1909 >> 18 Declaring to Training >> Swimmers Cramps

Swimmers Cramps

swimmer, arms, swimming, water, life, expert and subject


The many drowning fatalities recorded by the press during the swimming seasons invariably furnish us with numerous and thrilling accounts of the loss of life by drowning. In these accounts . we often read such statements as "the deceased was an expert swimmer," that he was seized with cramps, threw up his arms and disappeared, which statements do not convey the full facts of the case. In the first instance, those who drown are not as a rule expert swimmers. An expert, unless meeting with some unusual accident, is sel dom drowned, and if seized with cramps will not throw up his arms and disappear from sight. The only form of cramps that can cause this sudden action is heart cramps or heart_ failure, which would cause the subject's death under the same conditions if running or undertaking any form of exercise on land. In the second instance, the only other form of cramps likely to drown a swimmer would be when the abdominal muscles are attacked with this form of contraction, and even- in this case an expert swimmer would make a severe struggle for life before going under. In the case of average swimmers such a form of cramps would undoubtedly soon cause exhaustion, and, owing to taking large quantities of water into the lungs, he would naturally sink, although not so suddenly as generally described in the press. This leads one to the conclusion that these sudden disappear ances are caused through heart failure, or despair of the novice or average swimmer, who, when seized with cramps, generally throws up his arms. This is the worst action for any swimmer, as the hands and arms, being out of the water, lose their buoyancy, causing the body to sink. In this re spect, it is interesting to note thatthe majority of deaths from this cause occur mostly at the com mencement of the swimming seasons, which to a considerable extent verifies the foregoing explana tions. The verdict of drowning through cramps is quoted too readily; in many instances it is based purely on supposition. The experienced swimmer, in all forms of cramps, with the excep tion of the first one alluded to, knows what to do and how to act when he finds himself in such a dilemma, as it generally attacks the arms or legs, which parts are most subject to this complaint among swimmers. There is no real danger in the milder forms of cramps, which is simply a con traction of the muscles, brought on by entering the water when the body is overheated, or getting a chill from a cold wind before entering the water.

Either of these will bring on cramps, though there are other causes, such as poor circulation, sud denly overtaxing certain muscles, due to over strain or weakness of the same, which bears out the statement that most of these cases occur with beginners, or those who have not taken reasonable precautions to work up gradually before commenc ing any continual swimming at the commencement of the season. The sharp pain brings fear to the novice, who, having read of the terrors of "cramps," takes fright and gives himself up for lost without making a determined fight for life, with the usual results, that he throws his arms up and sinks from view, whereas, if he made a fight for it, he would certainly, in the milder attacks, manage to swim to safety or keep going until help arrived. The most effectual remedy, usually resorted to, is to turn on the back, throw the arm out vigorously, or kick the limb out of the water as far as possible. This will cause a momentary pain, as it straightens the contracted muscles. If the cramps are in the foot, it will give instant relief if the swimmer turns on his back and pulls the big toe backwards and forwards. In any case, commence long and deep breathing and keep as cool as possible, as it may go as quickly as it came. If it is very severe call for assistance, turn on your back and place both hands lightly on the shoulders of your assistant, who will be swimming on his breast, and in this way will be able to take his subject a considerable distance. If you are subject to cramps, practice swimming without legs, and then without arms. It gives one a feel ing of confidence when this is accomplished; it robs the word "cramps" of most of its terrors.

The writer has gone somewhat lengthy into this matter, as it is important for swimmers and be ginners to have as clear an explanation as pos sible. The foregoing is based on fifteen years' experience, and is the outcome of many interviews with several eminent Hon. Doctors of the Royal Life Saving Branches, particularly with Dr. Wickens, of the Hamilton Branch in Canada, who, being a keen follower of the sport, materially assisted the writer in his observations on this im portant subject.