Our human bodies are both amazing and frightening. Our body has an incredible ability to heal its own wounds and circulate up to about 2,000 gallons of blood in a day, but it can also act up at times and cause excruciating pain. This often happens with cramping in our feet – one minute all is well, the next minute your foot is scrunched up like an eagle’s claw clinging to a fish, and it hurts!! As you try to relieve the pain, you realize that the cramping is out of your control, as if possessed. These painful foot cramps can seriously cramp your style! Often the cramp only lasts seconds, but sometimes not. The ‘not’ is the problem!
Many times, foot cramps strike out of nowhere, and they can wake you up from a sound sleep. These nighttime foot cramps are related, and similar, to nocturnal leg cramps. Foot cramps are most common in people over 50 years old and pregnant women.
These involuntary foot spasms can have several different triggers. Common ones include the following:
Dehydration – Your muscles become more vulnerable to spasms and cramps when it is low on fluids and electrolytes. Not drinking enough water, or having a bout of illness, can quickly dehydrate your system. Be careful when exercising in hot weather, as this can drain your body of fluids, salts and other minerals. Perspiring while sleeping may also cause dehydration, which could be a reason that foot cramps are so common in the overnight hours.
Remember to hydrate! Drink plenty of water throughout the day. And when you are active, drink even more! Experts recommend that you should be drinking between 11-15 cups of water per day. A good marker to make sure you are getting enough fluids is to inspect your urine. It should be clear to light yellow. If you are pregnant or nursing an infant, you should get at least 13 cups of water per day.
Inactivity or Overexertion of muscles – As you sit for long periods, the muscles in your feet may be more prone to cramping. Poor posture inhibits blood flow to your feet which can compress your nerves – causing foot spasms. And watch that you are not sleeping in a position that may contribute to your nighttime cramping. Conversely, if you work your feet too strenuously, the muscle fibers in your feet may contract and expand, and you may feel fatigue in your muscles, which leads to cramping.
Try to move more! If you do not have a regular exercise routine, talk to your doctor about recommendations on what might work best for you. Even short walks or other low-impact activities can help. You may find that regular movement prevents leg cramps during the day and at night.
Improper Footwear – Wearing shoes that do not fit properly or don’t have enough support can lead to foot cramps. Improper footwear won’t support the weight of your body. Shoes that pinch and are too tight in areas may impair foot circulation, leading to painful spasms.
Wear proper fitting shoes. And if you wear high heels often, take a break to let your feet breath. If you are having trouble finding shoes that are comfortable, you may consider visiting us to receive custom-fit orthotic inserts.
Pre-existing Health Issues- Several medical conditions and medications are associated with foot cramping. These include structural issues and metabolic issues. Those with nerve damage or Parkinson’s may be susceptible to cramping. And check your medications – those used to treat high blood pressure, diuretics, statins and also birth control pills have all show to cause foot cramping. You may not be able to discontinue use of these, but at least you will know why you are experiencing the cramps. Dialysis may also make you prone to cramping.
A great way to combat these issues is to make sure that you are eating a well-balanced diet. A diet with plenty of calcium, magnesium and potassium. Nerve damage is caused by a deficiency in many of the B vitamins, and in thiamin and folate. Foods that are rich in magnesium include unsweet dried fruit, beans, nuts, whole grains and seeds. And bananas and leafy greens are full of potassium. Deficiencies in these nutrients can for sure cause leg and foot cramps. The best way to detect a nutrition deficiency is via a blood test administered by your doctor.
Alcohol Use – Heavy alcohol use may contribute to dehydration and can sap your body of important B vitamins. Consuming too much alcohol can lead to alcoholic neuropathy, which leads to permanent and progressive nerve damage. Symptoms include overall weakness in your body, tingling in arms or legs, and/or muscle cramping.
Alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine and mixed drinks consumed in excess cause dehydration. So, limit your intake. If you are having a hard time not drinking, consider reaching out to a close friend, your doctor, or a local support program. The best way to prevent alcoholic neuropathy and it’s complications is to drink alcohol in moderation.
Pregnancy – Researchers don’t have the answer as to why pregnant women suffer leg and foot cramps. The culprits most likely include the extra weight you gain as the baby matures, dehydration and other nutritional deficiencies caused by pregnancy. A big one to watch out for is magnesium deficiency. The cramps may reach a peak in the second and third trimesters, for the reasons listed above.
These cramps during pregnancy aren’t usually a cause for concern. However, you should let your doctor know if you are experiencing them excessively, they may be able to provide some additional options for relief. The easiest at-home remedy would be to stretch your foot whenever a cramp strikes. It is also a good idea to elevate your legs as much as possible. Stay active and take time for massages and warm baths when needed! Typically, the cramps will subside once the baby is here.
What to do when one strikes!
If your foot muscles start to tighten up, there are several things that you can do to get it to relax. First, try standing and putting your weight on the foot. Walk around and jiggle your leg. Try walking on your heels, with your foot flexed up. Gently rub the muscle as you stretch it. You may apply ice to the area as you massage it. If you don’t have any luck with the ice, try putting heat on it with a warm towel or a heating pad.
The best way to keep foot cramps at bay is to stay healthy and limber. Take time to stretch your muscles, including your feet, especially when you know that you will be exercising or using them for long periods. Stretch before, and after, you work out. Drink a lot of water! Stretch before you go to bed to minimize cramps striking at night.
Foot cramps tend to go away on their own. However, frequent foot cramping may signal an underlying medical condition that you need to have checked. Call your doctor if any of these conditions are present:
- The cramps are causing severe discomfort and/or they just won’t go away.
- You notice any swelling, redness, or other changes to your foot or surrounding areas.
- The cramps are happening with increased frequency and don’t improve with simple home remedies.
- If the cramps are interfering with your daily life.
Foot cramps are usually harmless, however do not hesitate to seek treatment and advice if needed. They can last for seconds, or up to several minutes. Don’t let painful foot cramps cramp your style! Try these tips today!