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Why Do My Feet Cramp?

The Mystery of Foot Cramps Explained

Are foot cramps cramping your style? A reader asked for help in figuring out the mystery behind her own foot cramps. To answer this question, we turned to a board-certified physician for information and advice.


Dear DrSugar,

What's the deal with foot cramps? I never got them when I was younger, but lately, I've been getting them frequently — especially when I'm lying in bed or trying to point my toes in Pilates class. My foot will sort of seize up and cramp into a weird position, and no massaging seems to make it go away. It seems to happen more on days when I wear heels, but not always. Do you have any idea what causes foot cramps and how I can prevent them?

— Cramped Style

As a fellow sufferer of muscle and foot cramps, I am so glad you asked this question. Muscle cramps (including the foot) are extremely common; in fact, according to MedicineNet.com, it is estimated that 95 percent of people experience a muscle cramp at some time in their life! There are many causes and treatments of muscle cramps, so if you are interested in learning more, keep reading!

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons defines a muscle cramp as an involuntary and forcibly contracted muscle that does not relax. Cramps can affect any muscle under voluntary control (skeletal muscle). Cramps can involve part or all of a muscle, or several muscles in a group. Cramps of the extremities, especially the legs and feet, and most particularly the calf, are extremely common. Other common areas for muscle cramps include: back and front of the thigh, hands, arms, abdomen, and rib cage muscles.

So, who gets cramps? Like I said earlier, statistics show that just about everyone will get some type of muscle cramp during their lifetime. They can come at any time too, with exercise or activity, or even when at rest or during sleep. Sometimes all it takes is the slightest movement that shortens a muscle to trigger a cramp (in your case, pointing your toes in Pilates shortens the muscles of the arch of your foot, which seems to trigger the cramps). According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, some people are predisposed to muscle cramps and get them regularly with any physical exertion. Muscle cramps are very common among endurance athletes who perform strenuous physical activity. Those at greatest risk are people over age 65, those who are ill, overweight, overexert during work or exercise, or take certain medications.

Common causes of muscle cramps include: overuse of a muscle, dehydration, depletion of salt and minerals (electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium and calcium), muscle strain/injury, or simply holding a position for a prolonged period of time. Another type of common muscle cramp is a nocturnal or rest cramp, which happens in your calf or toe muscles when you are resting or sleeping. However, the exact cause of muscle cramps remains unknown, although some researchers believe inadequate stretching and muscle fatigue leads to abnormalities in mechanisms that control muscle contraction.

In terms of treatment for muscle and foot cramps, you can generally treat muscle cramps with self-care measures, and most cramps can be stopped if the muscle can be stretched. For many cramps of the feet and legs, this stretching can be done by simply standing up and walking around. Typically, you want to try and gently stretch the muscle away from the cramping position and hold it there until the cramp goes away. Gently massaging the muscle will often help it to relax, as will applying warmth from a heating pad or hot/warm soak. If the muscle cramp is associated with fluid loss, as usually is the case with physical activity, fluid and electrolyte replacement is essential. There are a few steps you can take to prevent muscle cramps. Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of liquids every day and during physical activity, replenish fluids at regular intervals and continue hydration after you're finished. Also, stretch your muscles before and after you use any muscle for an extended period. If you have night cramps, stretch the affected muscles before bedtime.

Although most muscle cramps are benign, sometimes they can be an indication of a more serious medical condition. You should see your physician or medical health professional if the cramps are severe in nature, happen frequently, are persistent, fail to respond to simple treatments, or are not related to obvious causes like exercise or injury. You could have problems with circulation, nerves, metabolism, hormones, or nutrition. However, it is uncommon for muscle cramps to occur as the result of a medical condition without other obvious signs that the medical condition is present.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

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1curiouswriter 1curiouswriter 1 year

I get foot cramps more than anything else and every time I'm 99% sure its The End. Good info, thanks :)

John15348450 John15348450 2 years
Thanks for the information. I feel like I get cramps in my feet all the time. Sometimes it feels like something reaches out and grabs my foot. It is crazy how it happens. I usually try to eat a banana or drink a sport's drink to help soothe the cramps and that usually works. http://www.cdb-law.com/our-practice-areas/personal-injury/
Mia15324900 Mia15324900 2 years
Since becoming pregnant, I have the worst foot cramps. The weird thing is, I only get them at night. I really appreciate this post. I just wish I knew how to fix the cramping. Mia | http://algesterelectrical.net.au/commercial-industrial-electrical-services
terkrijen terkrijen 2 years
If anybody is still following this thread - I am a woman in my mid-50's who has, for the past 2 years been getting awful foot cramps. Through experimentation I have PROVEN to myself that they are dirrectly related to consumption of aspartame - specifically Diet Coke! I have been a Diet Coke drinker for decades (2-4 cans/day). I stopped and replaced it with Diet Iced Tea which does not contain aspartame. Within days, the foot crams completely stopped. Just to test the theory, I waited several months and re-introduced it to my diet for one day. I developed foot cramps that same night. Stopped and haven't had one since. Wondering if this might apply to any of you, and am curious about your results. Reading labels a lot more closely now...
isabella15022639 isabella15022639 2 years
Ive always took dance classes and now this year I am taking twice as more and I have more frequently getting them. When I try to pointe my toes they always end up cramping up. Just a few moments ago I tried to pointe my toes and the cramp was the worst its even been. (which led me to this article) I was too scared to try and walk so I out my feet in cold water and the cramp stopped right away. Ive been told that I need more potassium in my diet, can you please help me figure out what I should do? I don't know if I need medical attention or if it is just not enough potassium. Thank you this article really helped me!
MaryKayReynolds MaryKayReynolds 2 years
I have had severe sharp pains in the right side of my neck, plus toe cramps, leg cramps on both sides, right more prominent, pulse right eye muscle spasms for a month. What would cause this?
Brianne8186753 Brianne8186753 3 years
Last night I had a foot cramp so I put on some socks to keep them warm. But when I was putting the dishes away my foot started cramping again and I couldn't move my foot. So I ask my mom and we soak it and it feel better again. But for some reason it always happen on one foot and this happens three times. Can you help me please.
Cupcakinglala Cupcakinglala 4 years
For about 4 hours my legs & calfs have been cramping at times the pain gets a little over whelming. iI have tried massaging them as well as taking a hot bath and massaging, it only relieved it temporarily. It still comes back. Please give me some ideas, iI have no medical at this time either : (
SaraNoH SaraNoH 5 years
dont forget this cause: drastically changing your body temp too quickly! I learned this the (painfully) hard way during a 17 mile hike (of hell) with my senior class. About 7 miles away from the end I jumped into a nice cold pond of water.... and my entire body seized up, literally. Worst. pain. ever. I couldn't walk or anything.
nancita nancita 5 years
Thanks DrSugar. It's amazing that something so simple can be so painful!
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