Many people are affected by foot cramps, a condition caused by the sudden and involuntary contraction of a muscle or group of muscles. Athletes and the elderly are particularly susceptible to this. Foot cramps can last for a few seconds or extend for several minutes. Although they can be very painful, foot cramps are usually harmless when not associated with a medication or medical condition. In fact, you can safely treat most foot cramps at home with self-care remedies.
What Causes Foot Cramps?
Certain areas of the foot, including the inner arch and the big toe, are more prone to the muscle spasms that cause cramps. Muscle spasms are also common in the legs, especially in the calves and thighs. When cramps occur in the large muscles of the legs, you may be able to see or feel a hardened knot of muscle below the skin. Visible knots are less common with foot cramps. The following conditions and disorders are the most common causes of foot cramps.
1. Nutritional Deficiencies
Food cramps have been linked to a lack of essential minerals and vitamins in the body. Vitamin D deficiency in particular is a known cause of foot cramps. Electrolyte imbalance that is caused by low potassium and calcium levels or high magnesium levels can also be the source of cramps. In most cases, these deficiencies can be overcome by making an effort to satisfy the minimum daily requirements for vitamins and minerals.
A less well-known cause of foot cramps is inadequate hydration. Consuming enough water on a daily basis is the best way to avoid this situation. Remember, by the time you feel thirsty you may already be slightly dehydrated. Drinking coffee or alcohol and smoking can increase the effects of dehydration, so this is one more reason to cut back on these habits.
3. Lack of Exercise or Excessive Exercise
Both too little and too much exercise can lead to foot cramps. People with sedentary lifestyles are more prone to obesity and muscle weakness, both of which can contribute to foot cramps. On the other hand, people who exercise regularly may experience muscle cramps due to a decrease in the blood's calcium level caused by the increase in respiration during cardio workouts. A sudden increase in the intensity of workouts can lead to muscle injuries and strains that cause cramping.
4. Circulation Problems
When the flow of blood to the foot is decreased, foot pain and cramping may occur. This is due to a lower supply of oxygen to the affected area. Circulation problems are especially common among smokers and alcoholics.
5. Health Disorders
Foot conditions like plantar fasciitis and tendonitis can be the cause of foot cramps. Specific disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, thyroid problems and tetanus can also be responsible. Other sources include a variety of nervous system conditions. Diabetics may experience foot cramps due to a decrease in the amount of oxygen directed to the feet.
How to Soothe Foot Cramps
These home remedies aim at relieving the pain or discomfort. See a doctor if you experience visible swelling, skin changes or redness or if your muscle cramps occur frequently and are not associated with an obvious cause such as vigorous exercise.
Using massage oil or ointment while massaging your foot can reduce muscle fatigue that sometimes causes cramping. When foot cramps last for more than a few seconds, applying ice packs to the affected area can bring relief. If the cramp continues for several hours, soak your foot in warm water instead of applying ice packs. Add Epsom salts to increase the benefits of the warm water.
Extending your foot in the opposite direction of the muscle contraction may help relieve the spasm. Walking gently on the foot can be an effective way to stretch the arch. Using a tennis ball or golf ball, relieve tight muscles on the bottom or your foot by rolling your foot on the ball.
3. Supplements and Medications
Taking a daily vitamin and eating a healthy diet will reduce the risk of nutritional deficiencies. If you are considering additional nutritional supplements to address electrolyte imbalances, consult your doctor first. A doctor may recommend over-the-counter medication or prescription painkillers for foot cramps that are especially painful.
How to Prevent Foot Cramps
These are some preventative measures you can take to avoid food cramps:
- If your job requires you to be on your feet all day, consider cushioning your feet with shoe inserts.
- Ensure that you eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Improve your physical fitness with regular exercise.
- Compressing the foot by wrapping it with an elastic bandage and resting it can reduce cramping.
- Warm up before you begin exercising and cool down when you're done.
- Include stretching exercises in your workout routine.
- Drink plenty of water every day and stay hydrated while exercising.
- Wear shoes that fit properly and avoid high heels.
- Reduce muscle tension with regular massages.