Why Do My Feet Cramp?
You’re lying in bed, resting, feeling great… and all of a sudden your foot starts *scrunching* up like a claw and leaving you in agony. You try your best to move your foot into different positions to ease the pain. 90% of the positions don’t work, but you find one that gives you a little relief… so you hold it. Then when you think the worst is over, you let go… and bam. The pain comes shooting back and you repeat the cycle until finally, and for a reason that you’re not sure of, the cramping stops.
So… why on earth does this happen - and can anything be done to help stop or prevent cramps? Today, our team here at The Podiatrist answer all of these questions about foot cramps!
First thing’s first, what exactly is a cramp?
A cramp is a spasm or contraction of a specific muscle. It’s involuntary, sustained for a prolonged period that can last seconds to minutes, and it can be very painful and uncomfortable. While cramps commonly occur in the feet, they can also occur in other muscles like the calves. Unfortunately, no one is immune to cramps - and almost certainly everyone will experience at least a few - if not plenty - of cramps in their lifetime.
What causes a cramp?
The short story? There are many causes of foot cramps, there is no single variable that consistently causes foot cramping, and it’s likely that you’ve been affected by a variety of causes - if they can even be identified - in the past.
If you have a one-off irregular cramp, the cause may be spontaneous, where your nerves simply get muddled in their signals and cause a contraction without a specific reason. For more regular or specific cramps, they have been theorised to be linked to:
- Dehydration - if your water intake is lacking, your body may lack enough water to help your tissues function at their best - and this may also contribute to an imbalance of electrolytes. This may cause the muscles around the feet or legs to contract and cramp. Aside from not drinking enough water, vomiting, diarrhoea, exercise and overheating may also dehydrate you enough to promote cramping
- Your shoes - wearing high-heeled, stiff, narrow or unsuitable footwear can reduce the activity of our deep stabilising muscles in our feet. When this happens, our toes have to work overtime, so may fatigue quickly and cramp. Shoes that are too tight can also reduce blood flow to the feet, which may also promote cramping
- Overworking your muscles - exercise-related muscle cramps are the condition that most commonly requires medical attention when people participate in sports - so it’s a biggie. When we go too hard too fast and overload our muscles, they can spasm and our feet can cramp. This may be exacerbated by a build-up of lactic if a proper cool-down isn’t completed
- Medical conditions - any disease or medical condition that impairs the blood flow or narrows the blood vessels may contribute to cramps. Neurological conditions - those affecting the nerves - may also cause the nerves to misfire and lead to cramping
- Medication - some medications have been linked to the increased prevalence of cramps. An example is diuretics, which can exacerbate both dehydration and electrolyte deficiencies. If you notice that you’re getting more cramps not long after you start a new medication, make sure you let your doctor know!
- Nutrition - a good balance of electrolytes from the food we consume, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, is essential for healthy and functional contraction and relaxation of muscles. Having electrolyte insufficiencies, or overdosing with excess supplements, is thought to play a role in the development of cramps as the muscle is unable to relax properly
- Insufficient stretching - stretching and warming up our muscles helps promote healthy and proper muscle function, and not doing this sufficiently may help promote cramping
- Poor circulation - problems with restricted or impaired circulation may also cause cramps - as well as pain in the feet!
What should I do when my toes start cramping?
It’s recommended you try a variety of treatments if you experience regular cramping, so start by gently stretching the muscle, as much as you can tolerate, to try to help relax the muscle and relieve the uncontrolled contraction. You can try standing and putting weight on the affected foot and try using warmth to try to encourage circulation.
Preventing cramps starts by addressing the potential causes - if you know what they are. This means:
- Staying hydrated
- Eating nutritious foods, specifically those rich in magnesium (like leafy greens) and potassium (like bananas)
- Keeping your feet warm
- Exercising regularly
- Promoting blood flow by avoiding unnecessary medications, clothing and activities (like smoking) that constrict the blood vessels
- Warming up well and stretching before physical activity
- Wearing well-fitting and good quality shoes
- Not overdoing it when it comes to exercise and wearing suitable sports shoes when doing so
Unsure where to start?
If you’re getting any pain or discomfort in your feet - and you’re unsure where to start, come in and see our experienced podiatry team here in Toowoomba & Darling Downs. Book your appointment online by clicking here or call us on (07) 4638 3022.