Millions of Americans live near the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, but millions more have to rely on other bodies of water to cool off in the summer. If you live in a landlocked state and there’s no open pool in sight, you might be tempted to take a dip in the nearby river or that quiet lake a few towns over.

While this may provide you with some instant relief from the heat, how safe is it for you and your kids to start plunging into these freshwater sources? Swimming in lakes and rivers can be a rewarding and original experience for your family, but not if you have to rush to a CareWell urgent care center in the middle of your day. Check out these three lake and river swimming safety tips you can bank on.

There could be a host of bacteria lurking under the water's surface.
There could be a host of bacteria lurking under the water’s surface.

1. Look before you leap
This phrase is usually only meant figuratively, but when you’re thinking about taking a dip in your local river or lake, it really does pay to check out what you’re about to jump into before taking the plunge.

The first thing you should watch out for when swimming in any freshwater lake or river is water quality. You probably don’t plan on bringing your chemical analysis kit along with you, but a general rule of thumb follows that the warmer and more stagnant a body of water appears, the greater the chance of it harboring harmful bacteria and other organisms. Rivers usually have strong enough currents to wash away any colonies that attempt to form, but small lakes and ponds might not have enough circulation to stem growth.

“Diving head-first into any natural body of water is a risky proposition.”

2. Put your best foot forward
Because of the natural sediment rivers and lakes form on top of, their water is cloudier than the filtered environments of pools. In addition to the lack of any depth markings, this can make diving head first into any natural body of water a risky proposition – though the bed may be deep downstream, it could be very shallow right when you land.

That’s why you should never dive headfirst into a river or lake. The force of a dive from even a small height can be enough to cause serious spinal and head injuries. On the other hand, if you happen to dive feet-first into a shallow riverbed, CareWell’s urgent care centers can patch your sprained ankle up with fewer hassles than your friends might give you for hurting yourself.

3. Cramp your style
Popularized by Hollywood movies, the swimmer’s cramp is a temporary but painful event when muscles, usually in the arms or legs, begin to contract uncontrollably. If you’ve ever had a cramp while in the middle of swimming laps, you know the pain can be enough to cause you to forget to tread water.

Fortunately, cramps usually pass in a matter of seconds. If they don’t, head to your nearest CareWell urgent care center – while they may cause a serious amount of pain, cramps are simply caused by poor nutrition. A few minutes in the urgent care center and a day of rest are all you need to get back on your feet after a cramping attack.