Ask the Podiatrist: Why is my foot cramping?

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Foot cramps occur when there is an involuntary spasm of the muscles. They are painful and intense, but they don’t usually last long. They occur primarily in 3 locations: in the arch of the foot, around the toes, or through the calf muscle. You can experience these types of cramps at any time of the day or night, and they become more common over the age of 50.

Why do you experience foot cramps?

Muscles work in pairs. There are agonist and antagonist muscles. The paired muscles must work in harmony. The agonist contracts while the antagonist relaxes to produce smooth movements. If the antagonist muscle does not relax properly, it produces cramps. Also, if the agonist contracts suddenly with great force and then refuses to relax, it can also develop a cramp.

Cramps come with intense pain. Your muscles may feel “knotted” at that particular spot. This generally last for a few seconds, though some cramps can go as long as 10-15 minutes. Some individuals will experience repeated cramping of the muscle over the course of several days.

Causes of Foot Cramps

  1. Dehydration
    For many people, not drinking enough water will make them prone to experiencing foot cramps. Even if you do drink a moderate amount of water, activity levels that make you sweat can put you at a deficit. Other behaviors, like smoking or alcohol consumption, actually dehydrate your body.
  2. Muscular Strain
    You can develop foot cramps as a result of straining the muscles for extended period of time. The same is true if you’ve greatly increased the intensity of exercise. Athletes and active people who place an inordinate amount of stress on their feet can easily develop muscle cramps.
  3. Sleep Position
    Individuals who are spend long periods of time sleeping in a single position can experience cramping, as the weight and position of limbs can cut off circulation to the lower legs and feet.
  4. Nutrient Deficiency
    Vitamins and minerals are essential for the proper functioning of the body. You can develop foot cramping if you lack Calcium, Vitamin E, Potassium, Vitamin D, Magnesium and Vitamin B6 in your diet. Of these, a lot of the focus in recent research has pointed to the importance of Magnesium in preventing cramps.
  5. Nerve Damage
    Nerves carry signals from your brain to the muscles, and they’re responsible for the contraction and relaxation of muscle pairs. Neuropathy or a pinched nerve can easily cause foot cramps.
  6. Disease Conditions
    Do you have thyroid issues, diabetes, anemia or another disease condition that may be impacting your blood circulation and nervous system? Sometimes foot cramps are an early warning sign that an undiagnosed problem is present.
  7. Injury
    Your body has unique ways of protecting itself. For example, if you experience a muscle tear, the body may respond by seizing the muscle in a spasm in order to protect it from further damage. It’s really a simple but amazing trick for getting you to stop whatever you’re doing, if you think about it.
  8. Pregnancy
    Pregnant women in the third trimester can experience foot cramps due to changes in blood pressure drawing an increased blood supply from the legs.

Getting Rid of Foot Cramps

  1. Drink More Water
    Remember the old advice to drink 8 glasses of water a day? It still holds true. But if you are exercising, or spending a lot of time in hot weather, consider stepping up to about 1oz of water per pound of body weight, which will translate into at least a gallon for most people.
  2. Get Your Stretch On
    A regular, consistent stretching routine helps to reduce the occurrence of spasms. If you are starting to cramp, you can begin mild stretching to help bring down the intensity and pain of the cramp. Stretching daily is especially important if you are someone that spends most of the day sedentary, or on your feet.
  3. Improve Your Nutritional Intake
    Eat foods that are rich in Calcium, Vitamin E, Potassium, Vitamin D, Magnesium and Vitamin B6. This will help your nerves and muscles to function properly, reducing the likelihood of cramps. For many people, supplementation is a good way to make sure you’re meeting a consistent daily intake.
  4. Massage Your Feet
    Gently massage the affected area of the foot, to help the muscles relax. This will help to increase circulation to the muscles, thereby increasing the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the affected muscles as well as transporting waste materials away from the area. For toe and foot cramps, try massaging the ball of the foot for relief.
  5. Get Stronger
    Exercising regularly will keep your muscles from developing cramps. For instance, you can try picking up marbles with your toes. You can also perform calf raises to strengthen the complex of muscles that are more susceptible to cramping when they remain weak.
  6. Let’s Talk About Shoes…
    Ensure that your shoes fit well and provide support for your feet, especially for activities like working out, running, or walking. Avoid high heels or shoes that compress the toes. Keep comfort in mind always.

Foot cramps can be extremely painful, but they usually diminish without medical treatment. While you can take the measures above to reduce the chance of cramping, it’s a physiological reaction that is impossible to avoid. However, if you are experiencing frequent cramping in the foot, call the office of Houston podiatrist Gabriel Maislos, DPM, FACFAS for an evaluation. There may be an underlying disease condition, nerve impingement or injury that can be addressed by podiatric treatment.

Call (713) 541-3199 if you experience:

  • frequent cramping of the arch of the foot
  • cramping of the toes after wearing certain footwear
  • continuous or escalating pain after a foot cramp

Houston Foot and Ankle